Planning for international retirement migration and expats: a case study of Udon Thani, Thailand

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Koch-Schulte, John Joseph
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International retirement migration (IRM) and its related fields of expatriate residency (expats), residential tourism, long-term tourism and international second homes are rapidly growing and changing. From its early modern beginnings when Northern Europeans moved to Spanish beaches in the 1950’s, geographic distribution has now expanded to include Mexico and the emerging IRM markets of Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia. A combination of many factors will contribute to the growth of IRM in the future with retiring baby boomers being the primary reason. Though the vast majority are of persons older, IRM is a misnomer for this topic as non-retired younger generations are also moving to these destinations, as they are increasingly able to work from virtually anywhere, due to the Internet economy and other trends associated with ever-increasing globalization. IRM in Udon Thani, Thailand consists almost exclusively of retired Western men marrying local women who are almost always much younger. Almost all the men first spend time in the sex tourism haven of Pattaya, Thailand before moving to the interior Northeastern city of Udon Thani at or near where their wives are from. Thus, there are many linkages and commonalities between the expatriate residents in Pattaya and Udon Thani. Without proper planning, Udon Thani will continue to adopt many of the undesirable attributes of Pattaya such as beer bars and sex tourism which are already present and growing rapidly. This practicum focuses on IRM and expats in the city of Udon Thani, Thailand and examines impacts on the host community. The practicum also tries to develop general models of IRM in different communities in developing nations and recommend planning guidelines to help deal with this phenomenon. The research methods employed included: a review of the literature, key informant interviews, informal exploratory interviews with locals and the IRM population as well as observations. Outside of planning research conducted in Spain, no IRM or expatriate research has examined planning issues in detail. This practicum attempts to establish or contribute to a body of work to aide in future work on this topic. The primary planning issues in Udon Thani were found to be: sprawling residential growth, economic development, gender issues and integration of IRM and expat populations into the local communities. IRM shares many commonalities in all its global locations. However, planning for IRM in Udon Thani and possibly other Southeast Asian communities is unique due to the homogenous makeup of male retirees who bring with them a host of Western cultural values and problems related to bars and sex tourism. It has been found that planning for IRM shares commonalities with planning for amenity migration in North American mountain communities. There are many types of IRM communities. For example, beach communities may have a population that is more seasonal and has less attachment to host communities, while interior cities such as San Miguel and Lake Chapala, Mexico as well as Udon Thani may have more permanent year-round populations. Planning issues surrounding care-giving and marriage are also examined as medical care will be a future catalyst for many of these communities.
second homes, residential tourism, international retirement migration, retirement migration, tourism, Udon Thani, Thailand, urban planning, sex tourism, long stay tourism, globalization, retirement