The Phuket reopening looks like it is achieving some moderate success as a senior Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) official heralds a new Green or, more specifically, Bio Circular Green (BCG) future for tourism in Phuket currently without beer bars and prostitution. The Director of the Creative Activities Division of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr Nat Krutsuot, outlined the programme launched on the island by the tourist agency at the weekend. Its aim is to bring back colour, which along with higher quality and certified facilities, should give foreign tourists more confidence in what could be a new era for Thai tourism.
Thai authorities including the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn have launched a crackdown on prostitution in Phuket which they fear may threaten the moderate success that has been achieved since last Thursday when the island reopened to international tourism. It also comes as a senior executive with the Tourism Authority of Thailand heralded the new certified status of accommodation and tourist facilities on the island which has drawn the ire of smaller business concerns and operators left out of the current initiative, as a new standard for Thai tourism heralding a higher quality experience being ushered in. It comes as bar and entertainment venues on the island remain closed and there are strict criteria for who foreign tourists can bring to their hotel bedrooms on public health grounds.
The Minister of Tourism and Sports, Mr Phiphat, is calling on security services and the navy in Phuket to help control prostitution on the island amid fears that breaches of the strict Covid 19 protocols may be occurring and the danger to the overall implementation of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ project seen as critical to the reopening of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry and on which the government also now finds it has staked a lot of its political capital.
Mr Phiphat is even calling for naval patrols to guard against people being smuggled onto the island for nefarious purposes.
Phuket Sandbox gaining traction with upwards of 12,000 foreign tourists expected to fly in this July
It comes as the scheme in Phuket appears to be gaining traction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicating that at least 8,000 applications for Certificate of Entry have been processed and with reports from Thai Airways that there is strong interest in its five weekly flights on Friday and Saturday from European capitals to Phuket.
Minister Phiphat also told reporters in recent days that he was also concerned about some initial delays at Phuket International Airport as it was a key goal of authorities to reduce the waiting time for incoming tourists to the minimum.
7 infections on Saturday among quarantined visitors entering from the mainland prompts a change of plan
On Saturday, officials reported 7 infections on the vaccinated island where 84% have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose.
The cases involved incoming travellers from the mainland who had been placed in quarantine since they were not fully vaccinated.
On Saturday, the Governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew, confirmed all initial arrivals to the Phuket Sandbox scheme had tested negative and briefed the press on the 7 infections detected.
Officials have now altered the protocols so that anyone entering Phuket from another part of Thailand must have a negative Covid-19 test and be fully vaccinated.
Governor Narong explained the situation to the Phuket News newspaper.
‘We have discovered recently that most of the new cases are people who have entered the island via land and are staying in designated local quarantine venues. As a result, we have cancelled the option for people to serve the 14-day quarantine when entering by land.’
‘From now on, people wishing to enter by land must be able to show proof of vaccination and the results of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival. If they cannot produce this they will not be permitted to enter via the checkpoint.’
Minister of Tourism Mr Phiphat criticises negative online commentary of Thai Chamber of Commerce party to celebrate the reopening last week
Over the weekend, the minister was highly critical of social media activists and commentators after a controversy arose over a reception given by the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Phuket to celebrate the ‘Phuket Sandbox’.
Minister Phiphat said that Phuket had been declared a green zone and he had consulted with the Deputy Governor of the island, Pichet Patong. He was satisfied that everything was in order.
‘The event did not violate the ordinances of the province. It complied with all regulations in Phuket, which has been declared a green area. Therefore, I want those who do not wish our efforts well, to be careful of presenting incorrect information or making fake news. It will create uncertainty in spite of the fact that every agency is trying to make the Phuket Sandbox, to restart tourism in Thailand again, a success.’
Thai Airways reports strong interest in their five weekly flights to the holiday island from Europe
Chief Commercial Officer of Thai Airways, Non Klinta, was upbeat about the Sandbox scheme and confirmed that the airline will fly in at least 1,300 passengers in the course of July with advance bookings already at this level.
Many observers are predicting that the first month will see upwards of 12,000 visitors to Phuket which will represent some success for the government if matters proceed safely and without incident.
The airline is flying from Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Paris each Friday and on Saturday, it has a flight service from London and Zurich.
The national flag carrier is to maintain this flight schedule until the end of September.
PM and government under fire from opposition, activists and small business in Bangkok and Phuket
Following the visit of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to Phuket on Thursday to oversee the launch, he was the subject on Friday of strong and stinging attacks by both opposition parties in parliament and street protests as public fear and anger grows over rising infections and deaths linked with a fourth wave of the virus and reaction by small business owners to restrictions imposed in Bangkok.
Opposition to the government in the capital was sparked last week by a surprise order on the previous weekend issued cancelling all dining at restaurants throughout the metropolis which saw many small enterprise owners joining with student activities on Friday in a protest outside Government House which was later subdued by torrential rain.
However, Move Forward MP, Rangsiman Rome, in parliament, launched a scathing attack on General Prayut blaming him for smiling and appearing informal with foreign tourists in Phuket while the country’s infection levels were rising with a scarcity of hospital beds and ICU facilities in Bangkok.
These were being addressed by the army and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul by the provision of more emergency army field hospitals.
Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome in a scathing attack on PM Prayut over ‘sandcastles in the air’
On Sunday, the attacks on the Prime Minister by the party-list MP and Progressive Movement activist in which Mr Rome referred to ‘sandcastles in the air’ and criticised General Prayut for not knowing the meaning of the English word ‘sandbox’ were vehemently rejected by the Secretary to the Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.
Mr Thanakhorn pointed out that the government leader’s mission last week was to show goodwill to foreign tourists and encouragement despite the current virus outbreak.
The kingdom’s government must reopen the country to foreign tourism to prevent more suffering and economic damage to the country and hardship to the people dependent on the industry, he declared, in defence of the PM.
Phuket reopening is a hot political issue as small business operators claim to have been cut off
Despite the traction being gained by the scheme and the vigorous defence of the government leader, the Phuket sandbox is becoming a hot political issue with opposition leaders and activists calling for more attention to be given to the fate of small business operators not only in Bangkok but in Phuket where many small concerns and entrepeneurs have complained about being locked out by the certification scheme under which the Phuket Sandbox programme is being run.
Phuket tourists fly in but the success of the plan is uncertain due to red tape and needling restrictions
Over the weekend, the Director of the Creative Activities Division of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr Nat Krutsuot, was in Phuket.
He explained to the press the plan by the tourism promotion agency to stage an ongoing series of events to brighten up the tourist island that still has many shops, hotels, bars and restaurants closed.
TAT in a programme to bring colour back to Phuket with events and activities centred on beaches
On Sunday, members of the 3rd Naval Area Marine Corps were dispatched to all the beaches on the island including Patong Beach, Karon Beach, Kata Beach, Nai Harn Beach, Windmill Viewpoint, Yanui Beach, Laem Phrom, Thep Rawai Beach and Chalong Pier to monitor their condition as part of an operation aimed at bringing back colour to Phuket for July.
They reported that many of the beaches were empty except for Patong and Kata beaches where the proportion of foreigners to locals was roughly the same.
Mr Nat explained that as part of his agency’s programme to bring back colour and a happy atmosphere to the island, there is a range of activities scheduled every day including firework displays at night, trips to watch the sun go down on Laem Phromthep, picture scenes for photos and promotions involving food trucks.
New ‘Green’ higher standard and a new dimension in foreign tourism being tested out by the government agency in Phuket for the reopening says top official
He appeared to extoll the new approach to tourism on Phuket where the bars and entertainment in Patong and other centres remained shuttered and the prevention of prostitution has become the subject of an intense security operation, as a new greener approach to Thai international tourism.
He said the new ‘Colorful Phuket’ promotion combined with the SHA Plus certification programme which has excluded many smaller tourism concerns and businesses from the reopening, as a new Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) approach to tourism which could become the blueprint for the future of tourism in Thailand.
He said the SHA certification process will enhance the confidence of all incoming foreign tourists and raise the level of service and standards in Phuket to a new dimension.
The government and the Tourism Authority of Thailand are still hoping that between now and the end of 2021, Phuket can host up to 550,000 tourists to the island spending a total of ฿5.51 billion to benefit the local economy.