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The Tourism and Sports Minister has rushed to reassure local Phuket residents who have voiced concern about a tentative plan (now postponed) to reopen the province to foreign visitors. Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn says that some miscommunication may have occurred, as he reassured residents of Phuket that they would not have to accept any tourism plan.
Together with a full ministerial entourage, the minister visited the island during the weekend, in the direction of the Thai PM, to evaluate the mood of local communities on Phuket's reopening under the much-publicized "Phuket Model."
He was speaking as officials gathered in Phuket with business owners and tourism representatives to discuss the island's tourism future. In recent weeks various reopening plans have been put forward and then dropped again. Pipat spoke to business representatives in Patong, inviting them to share their views on allowing foreign tourists to return under strict conditions, including Covid-19 testing and the mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
He says most people are comfortable with the idea, but several people have raised concerns, saying that the government should focus on Thai tourists to avoid Covid-19's resurgence. The country has just recorded its first local case in more than 3 months, with a Bangkok DJ testing positive after being jailed for drug offences.
A meeting of around 100 took place on Saturday at a restaurant on Patong Beach Road that included local luminaries, officials and tourism operators. They expressed their fears for the future of local tourism, particularly along Phuket's tourist-west coast which was severely affected by the impact of government lockdowns and border bans.
Locals from Phuket also shared their fears over the virus, saying that the government should put any foreign tourism plan to a local referendum to ensure that it has majority support. They also call for a subsidy of 10,000 baht per month for local businesses, a moratorium on debt repayments for 1-3 years, and the option of 5-7 year soft loans.
Also, the meetings became a grab bag of random local causes. Residents also want work done at Patong Hospital, as well as a general upgrade of the Phuket's healthcare system, to ensure that it can cope with a virus resurgence. Other suggestions put forward were developments in education and urban planning, free Wifi, and requests to extend entertainment venues' closing time to 4 am (a campaign that has been going on for half a decade).
The official Bangkok delegation also visited Phuket Town, Yai Harn, Chalong and Cherngtalay.