Hopes fading for grand July reopening

11 Jun 2021

Under the "Phuket Tourism Sandbox" model, which is being touted as a model for the reopening of Thailand's tourism industry, starting July 1, foreign tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 waive quarantine requirements.
People want the 14-day stay requirement taken back to seven days, as hotels and day-trip ferry operators have pinned their hopes on reopening.
Mr Wichai said he hasn't seen any new bookings as his company focuses on tourists from Asian countries, most of whom don't plan to stay in Phuket for more than five days.
"We don't know how many foreign tourists will return as Phuket reopens in July. Thai tourists may be worried that the price of hotel rooms, food, and tour packages in Phuket may increase, so not many will visit," Mr Wichai said.
The Phuket Sandbox program told to Sirikorn Bunyasiri, vice-president of the Phuket Travel Agents Association, is expected to get off to a good start.
"The number of flights to Phuket is expected to increase, though it is not known whether tourists will come to the island in large numbers. After almost two years, many airlines are trying to increase flights, and everyone is looking at Phuket. Others will follow suit if it is a success " she said.
The owner of the Holiday Inn Express Hotel on Patong Beach, Chalermlak Kepsap, voiced disagreement with the 14-day stay requirement, saying that it may dissuade foreign tourists from visiting.
"It will be difficult for them to remain on the island for 14 days. Considering the number of tourist spots on the island, this may be too long. It will be more helpful if they adopt a seven-day rule, as tourists will have the chance to visit other destinations "Ms Chalermlak said.
She said that Patong Beach, a popular tourist spot in Phuket, is still quiet, with no visitors, even though many visitors know the monsoon season will peak next month and last until October.
"As hotel operators are not confident the reopening plan will draw foreign tourists back, several have decided to remain closed," she said, adding that many small hotels don't have the budget to restart their businesses, some of which have been shuttered for almost two years.
"If the situation in Patong continues where will tourists stay when they come on July 1?" she said.
"Not only must we take into account other aspects, not only the vaccination of 70% of residents. For example, we have considered the countries from which the foreign tourists come. In Patong, operators have not seen a clear government stance on the matter," she said.
Mr Sonthaya said the locals were working to comply with the Safety & Health Administration Plus guidelines, that were recommended by the Tourism and Sports Ministry to attract visitors.
"When there are no visitors, Phuket will become a ghost town." The country cannot move forward [the sandbox scheme].
"The requirement of a 14-day stay will benefit local producers." Mr Sonthaya said, "We want tourists to spend money in communities selling local products."
"We're like small fish in a big pond," he adds that "larger operators who market internationally should also think about local tourism enterprises."
Don Limnanthapisit, president of a Phuket old town community committee, said he agrees with the 14-day requirement, but warned that if tourists fail to follow health safety protocols, the reopening may lead to a new surge of infections.
"Though incoming foreign tourists will be required to show proof of vaccination, this does not mean they are totally virus-free," he said. "Foreign tourists may not want to wear their masks in public. When they arrive in Phuket, they want to enjoy themselves drinking. If we cannot control them, a new wave of infections may rise."