Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor a boon for tourism

The EEC will be spread across three provinces: Rayong, Chonburi (pictured) and Chachoengso. Source: Shutterstock

THAILAND’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) provinces can expect a major tourism boom over the next few years as the Kingdom charges ahead with plans to transform the country’s trade and manufacturing hub into a leading Asean economic zone by 2021.

Known as the Eastern Seaboard, the EEC is regarded as a region of strategic importance due to its proximity to the bustling capital of Bangkok and its location along the Gulf of Thailand.

Spread across three provinces (Rayong, Chonburi and Chachoengso) and 13,285 sq km, the region currently contributes 20 percent to Thailand’s GDP and is also home to several famous tourist destinations such as Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang.

Approved by the Thai Cabinet last year, the EEC is estimated to receive investments worth some THB1.5 trillion (US$43 billion) over the first five years for infrastructure development and improved sea, rail and air access to its provinces.

The project will address four core areas of development: increased and improved infrastructure; business, industrial clusters, and innovation hubs; tourism; and the creation of new cities through smart urban planning.

“The government envisions the EEC as a world-class industrial estate with high-tech industries. Tourism and aviation will be the focus of the next phase,” Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, told Bangkok Post in June.

With tourism identified as a key driver of the EEC, several high-priority projects have been identified to boost the region’s connectivity to its Asean neighbors.

Chief among these are plans to convert the U-Tapao Rayong-Pattaya International Airport into a commercial airport and expand its current 800,000 capacity to three million, through the opening of another terminal and runway. This is likely to lower the cost of flights into the airport as there will be less competition for runway space, and more aircraft can land and take off from the airport.

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The improvement of high-speed railway lines connecting travelers to the main three international airports Suvarnabhumi (Bangkok), Don Mueang (Bangkok), and U-Tapao will also make travel to and through Thailand quicker and smoother: tourists will now be to plan hassle-free holidays between Thailand’s provinces instead of opting for arduous bus rides across the country.

This leaves more money and time for travelers to enjoy the delights of the Land of Smiles, rather than the journeying itself eating up more than can be warranted.

The Air Race 1 World Cup Thailand will be held in Ko Si Chang (pictured) this November. Source: Shutterstock

There are also plans in the pipeline to boost the EEC’s regional connectivity by developing the existing ports of Laem Chabang and Map Ta Phut, which the Thai government hopes will draw in high quality tourists on luxury yachts and cruise liners.

And within the EEC, visitors to the kingdom can enjoy some of the best attractions Thailand has to offer.

Incredible history and nature can be found in Ko Si Chang in the Chachoengsao province, where King Rama V the Great’s summer palace can be found. The Air Race 1 World Cup Thailand will also be held there this November.

Other popular attractions within the EEC is the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya in the Chonburi province, where spiritual arts of Buddhist and Hindu origin can be found. Or, for family-friendly fun, the Cartoon Network Amazone Waterpark is situated in the same region.

“Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor is a diverse region and offers a huge range of attractions to tourists and visitors,” Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told The Nation last month.

“We want people coming here to work or travel to have the chance to explore the culture of the area. They’ll find communities offering unique local experiences from exploring bustling markets to making connections with people via homestays and fishing excursions.

“Foodies will love the area, especially the farms and orchards where amazing fruit can be enjoyed.”

The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya. Source: Shutterstock

Yuthasak added that on top of ease of access and the expected increase in tourist arrivals, developments in the EEC will also benefit local businesses.

“By prioritising tourism in the EEC, we are also helping local communities benefit with investment, jobs and income,” he told TAT News last month:

The EEC is expected to create 100,000 jobs a year in the manufacturing and services industry, which will, in turn, help place Thailand on the path of solid and sustainable economic growth.

Not only will there be a large injection of money into the Thai economy from the original investment, it should also be a sustainable source of economic growth due to the employment it creates and from the ongoing tourism it promotes.

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This should create the opportunity for higher living standards for locals in the EEC, even more than the improved infrastructure and tourist sector will on its own. Disposable incomes should rise in line with higher employment rates, and investment into the provinces should make them nicer places to live.

The plans fall in line with the government’s ambitious “Thailand 4.0” scheme, a new economic model that aims to save Thailand from its middle-income trap and transform it into an innovation-driven and high-income economy.