Top tourist industry leaders this week came out to raise the alarm claiming the government had not made the position on reopening the holiday island to foreign tourists clear. Friday’s decision by the cabinet economic sub-committee will help address these fears with only 26 days to go.
The Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) on Friday gave the final green light and imprimatur to the reopening of Phuket on July 1st under the ‘sandbox’ scheme. The decision confirmed that no quarantine will apply to vaccinated tourist arrivals but did emphasise and strengthen as a condition that the travellers must stay within Phuket for fourteen days before they are at liberty to travel to other parts of Thailand. This had been initially set at seven days and represents a tightening of the restrictions at the last minute. The news comes as anxiety had been expressed by business leaders and foreign tourism organisers who feared a lack of certainty was undermining their efforts to make the initiative a success.
On Friday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha chaired a meeting of the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) to review plans to reopen Phuket to foreign tourism on July 1st and heard a presentation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The meeting, which took place at Government House, was conducted by video conference and heard more detailed plans for boosting foreign tourism by reopening to vaccinated travellers starting with Phuket.
Tourism marketing officials are now proposing to extend the regime to adjacent islands from August as well as relaxed access to both Chiang Mai and other hotspots ahead of the more liberal reopening proposed for October 1st for vaccinated arrivals when the wider populations in these areas have been inoculated.
Cabinet-level meeting also looked at measures to boost confidence among foreign property investors
Anucha Burapachaisriu, the spokesman for the government, also told reporters a measure to boost the confidence of foreign property investors in Thailand was also to be reviewed by the economic team of ministers and senior officials at Friday’s meeting with more details expected later.
October 1st for broader reopening to 75% of foreign tourists with access to 10 key provinces and hotspots
In parliament this week, during the budget debate, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn only confirmed the October 1st date for the reopening of all 10 tourist provinces and hot spots including Bangkok, Buri Ram, Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Phang Nga, Phetchaburi, Phuket, Prachuap Khiri Khan and Surat Thani.
He explained that these provinces alone accounted for 75% of the record level of foreign tourism earnings recorded by Thailand in 2019 at ฿1.5 trillion.
Phuket tourism leader expressed deep concern over the lack of clarity about the July 1st reopening
On Thursday, the man who was the architect of the Phuket sandbox scheme, Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, expressed some alarm that final confirmation from the government in Bangkok had not been received concerning the reopening of the island which is now generating significant international interest.
Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector
‘The problem is we have been asked a lot lately by interested parties in other countries as to what the exact conditions of this tourism programme are. But we cannot really answer these questions even though there are just 28 days left,’ Mr Bhummikitti explained and warned that the vacuum of information posed a danger to the initiative. ‘If things are still left so unclear, the Phuket sandbox won’t likely happen as planned.’
Easier for travellers to visit other areas outside Phuket ahead of the broader October 1st date
In advance of Friday’s summit in Bangkok to review the plan, Tourism Authority of Thailand executive Siripakorn Cheawsamoot who is responsible for promoting foreign tourism in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa gave some idea of what was being proposed in relation to other relaxations.
From August, tourists entering Thailand can travel to Khao Lak from Phan Nga without quarantine while tourists in Krabi can travel to Ko Phi Phi, Railay and Ko Ngai in July once they isolate themselves for one day on arrival.
Visitors will have to confine themselves to the vicinity near their hotel on days two and three while undergoing a Covid test on days five and four.
He detailed a range of short term restrictions between July and August to island destinations and favourite districts for foreign tourists ahead of a wider and more liberal opening on October 1st.
Complicated guidance for foreign tourists
These measures are complicated and will add to confusion among foreigners who find it difficult to equate a carefree, getaway holiday in the sun with complicated and timetabled restrictions and schedule tests.
The goal of the measures appears to be to provide public health measures for areas not yet vaccinated that can be visited by foreign tourists emerging from Phuket after spending the designated period there.
This may explain today’s confirmation of the proposal to raise the threshold from seven to fourteen days in Phuket which is the former quarantine period.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss Yuthasak Supasorn confirmed the details on May 27th
Tourism Authority of Thailand Director-general Yuthasak Supasorn, on May 27th, did confirm that reopening without quarantine was going ahead with vaccinated travellers from approved countries and with a Certificate of Entry being allowed to stay without quarantine by being limited to the island for 14 days instead of 7 as originally proposed.
Mr Yuthasak confirmed that travellers who entered Phuket and who wished to leave the country from Phuket earlier than the 14 days were also at liberty to leave Thailand and travel elsewhere at anytime.
Governor of Phuket Narong Woonsiew less emphatic
However, the Governor of Phuket Narong Woonsiew was less than emphatic and sounded a note of caution.
He said whether the July 1st sandbox project went ahead was a matter for the entire country and the world outside the holiday island.
The heightened concern and anxiety were later echoed by the Chairman of the Tourism Council of Thailand, Chamnan Srisawat, who said the reason for his concern was that there had still not been official confirmation by the government even at a very late stage. This was before Friday’s meeting.
He said the absence of definite confirmation was putting off prospective tourists and operators within the international tourism trade.
Phuket already has 60% of the population vaccinated with one dose with a massive 81% of the island’s population of 466,587 registered for the jab.