Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn visited Phuket on Saturday and assured potential holidaymakers that there will be no change to the promise of no quarantine for arrivals who are vaccinated as he underlined the security and safety measures being deployed for the reopening of the island and also announced a marketing campaign, targeting the vaccinated Thai public to the island, would be launched by his tourism promotion agency. His visit came just days after Patong Mayor, Chalermsak Maneesri, confirmed that the island’s famous nightlife and entertainment venues will remain shuttered for now. Take our Thai Examiner opinion poll below and tell us what you think of this news.
The allure and excitement at the prospect of the reopening of Phuket to international foreign tourism began to recede towards the end of last week when it emerged that the scheme is being heavily taxed with new rules and regulations as well as a decision by the Governor of the holiday island to keep bars and entertainment venues shut.
On Saturday, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn visited Phuket which is readying itself for its reopening to the international tourism market from July 1st.
The senior executive moved to assuage growing unease about increasing restrictions being imposed on the initiative by the government in Bangkok and the governor after the cabinet last week ordered a review of certain details.
This is currently being carried out by agencies and officials tasked with the job.
Key promoter of the move satisfied with briefing
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam of the Phuket Tourist Association, the man at the centre of promoting the initiative since February, said over the weekend that things were a lot clearer after a workshop he attended where details on the plan were presented.
The industry leader had expressed unease in recent weeks that uncertainty surrounding regulations may undermine efforts to attract visitors.
TAT governor gives assurance that there will be no quarantine for vaccinated foreign travellers from July
Mr Yuthasak, on Saturday, confirmed that there will be no change to the primary attraction of the reopening plan which is that all vaccinated tourist arrivals into the island will not be subjected to 14 days quarantine although they will have to now remain on the island for 14 days which was recently extended by the government.
‘I assure you there will be no quarantine. The TAT will support Phuket’s efforts to restore its tourism industry,’ he told reporters just days after the bombshell announcement by the Mayor of Patong, Chalermsak Maneesri, that all bars and entertainment venues in Phuket will remain closed on orders from the provincial governor and the Director-general of TAT, Mr Yuthasak.
Patong is the busiest area of the island linked firmly with the foreign tourism industry. Its famous entertainment district has been devastated by the pandemic.
Regular overseas visitors to Phuket disappointed that the island’s bars and entertainment venues will remain closed even after foreign tourists fly in
The news has been a disappointment to many regular visitors to the holiday island who see its vibrant nightlife as an essential part of its appeal. This was clearly expressed online.
Some, a minority, welcomed the opportunity to experience Phuket with a low volume of tourists and appreciate the undoubted beauty of the island.
On Saturday, Mr Yuthasak was more interested in emphasising the safety protocols being implemented to welcome tourist arrivals after July 1st which he revealed his agency will be presenting to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) next Friday.
This will be centred on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be used on arrival when foreign tourists fly onto the island through Phuket International Airport.
Three swab tests for Covid-19 will be part of the standard regime for all tourists visiting Phuket
It has now emerged that, in addition to negative Covid-19 tests before their flight to the holiday island, vaccinated visitors will still be subjected to no less than three swab tests for the virus in addition to being tracked using a smartphone app and other regulations.
One is that tourists will be forced to use only approved hotels, outlets and facilities on the island. Another is that visitors will not be allowed to visit each other’s rooms or invite guests to stay with them.
In addition, foreign tourists will not be allowed to consume alcohol while dining.
Safety and security the overriding priority
On Saturday, Mr Yuthasak repeatedly emphasised the importance of boosting safety measures in Phuket to create a secure environment for incoming tourists and locals alike.
‘When the reopening takes place, we have to make sure tourists are impressed by our measures from their journey from the airport to their hotels,’ he told reporters.
Hotel boss says many hoteliers will wait and see how the first three months go before reopening again
Meanwhile, it is reported that, as of now, only between 15% and 20% of hotels on the island are open to accepting visitors with one tourist operator, Suksit Suvunditkul, the CEO of Deevana Hotels and Resorts, a large family firm with 8 hotels in Phuket and Krabi, telling the local newspaper in Phuket last week, The Phuket News, that many hoteliers will not open for the initial three months of the ‘sandbox’ scheme from July to the end of September as they are not convinced that the demand will be still there.
Mr Suksit mentioned the fact that Spain, which already has a 50% vaccination rate among its population, has opened its popular and vast tourist industry to Europeans, without restrictions, to travellers from this key market being targeted by the Phuket ‘sandbox’ initiative.
Spain has lifted nightlife restrictions and its resorts are open to European travellers right now
Spain recently lifted restrictions on the nightlife and entertainment industry even in areas and resorts that had not achieved herd immunity on a conditional basis.
Meanwhile, the TAT boss on Saturday revealed his agency was launching a campaign also to lure Thai travellers who have been fully vaccinated to Phuket which is being presented as a haven from the disease.
Patong business operators face a dire situation
This week, the Mayor of Patong in Phuket, Mr Chalermsak admitted that the situation for business operators in Patong right now is dire as he revealed the decision not to reopen the area’s famous bars and entertainment venues which have always been a key draw for many foreign tourists.
He seemed to suggest that the prohibition on the nightlife industry may be somewhat temporary and explained the reason for it clearly was such venues have been identified by public health officials to be the source of the current third wave of Covid-19 which has spread throughout Thailand causing unprecedented levels of infections and deaths.
Justifiable reason was given for the cautious approach being adopted by authorities in Phuket and Bangkok
In April and May, official sources including the police, highlighted the industry in the Thong Lor area of Bangkok as the source of the current outbreak.
‘For the entertainment venues in Phuket, from a meeting of officials, they altogether agreed to keep the venues closed in the first period of July, as we had a cluster from that kind of venue,’ Mayor Chalermsak said. ‘Phuket Governor and the TAT Governor have not allowed them to open.’
These measures, of course, could be both necessary and justified as events in Bangkok in April showed and even recently in Taiwan, formerly left unscathed by the pandemic, where adult entertainment venues, bars, hotels and international travel have been shown to be among the most dangerous environments for the growth of deadly Covid-19 clusters.
Confused guidance at some Thai embassies
Meanwhile, there are reports that many foreigners are finding that guidance at Royal Thai Embassies worldwide is still specifying that 14 days quarantine is required before applying for a Certificate of Entry from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to visit Phuket after July 1st as well as insurance, a negative Covid-19 test and proof of vaccination.
It has been confirmed that there is interest in Phuket and the routing of regular flights by an array of international airlines including Qatar, Thai Airways, Emirates and others is an encouraging sign.
Many long term foreigners living in Thailand may use the ‘Phuket sandbox’ as a more convenient and cheaper way to return to Thailand
Many foreigners will see the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ as a more convenient and less expensive option to the Alternative State Quarantine system but it is unlikely Thailand or Phuket will see anything like the volume of foreign tourists seen before April 2020 until bars are opened, the Certificate of Entry requirements are lifted along with the return of visa on arrival for countries who had previously enjoyed this concession and the growing plethora of burdensome and intrusive regulations ditched.
Have your say: Thai Examiner Opinion Poll on the closure of bars and entertainment venues. Do you agree with the call made by officials?
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the parent company of Thai Air Asia, Tassapon Bijleveld, is also expressing caution about the prospects for the reopening plan.
Local airlines anxious about the lack of demand and changing regulations related to the destination
Local airline chiefs fear changing regulations and lack of demand for now as they hold back launching new flights.
The boss of the airline, which is now only operating two aircraft from a former fleet of 59, said that many local airlines, already burned by several false dawns, will wait and see if the demand emerges and if regulations surrounding the plan stabilise also.
‘We won’t rush international services in the early stages of the sandbox as tourist demand is unstable, particularly as vaccinated tourists will be forced to roam the island for 14 days,’ he said.
TAT boss predicts 129,000 visitors to Phuket in the opening 3 months until September 30th
His comments were echoed by the Head of Operations for Thai Lion Air, Ms Nuntaporn Komonsittivate, who also expressed concern about shifting regulations concerning the reopening plan.
She said the airlines will wait until Quarter 4 to ascertain demand and give time for a stable regulatory regime to emerge.
Meanwhile, Mr Yuthasak of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says he expects Phuket will see 129,000 visitors in the opening period from July to the end of September who will generate ฿11.4 billion in revenue for the hard-up island where the average monthly salary for workers without government supports was reported recently to be ฿2,000 per month.