Phuket Sandbox Struggles

The Thai government and tourism authorities and organisations have committed to the reopening of Thailand to foreign tourists and rebuilding the tourism economy in the country.

Main picture beach life in Phuket credit Artur Kornakov on Unsplash

Moves are continuing to reopening further parts of the country in the coming weeks to help to attract further tourists to the country which welcome almost 40 million foreign visitors in 2019.

The Thailand tourism recovery programme is still centred on Phuket, the first area to reopen on 1st July and the centre for tourists arriving on the Sandbox Extension programme. There are problems in Phuket however.

The first month of the Phuket Sandbox resulted in more than 14,000 foreign tourists arriving on the island. The figure was lower than hoped but was still seen as a triumph. Of those 14,000, the biggest numbers were 1,802 from the USA and 1,558 from the UK. By mid-August the total number had increased to 20,000.

Travel Advisories

There were two major blows from those largest markets last month.

On 9th August the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 4 Alert for Thailand. The highest alert possible, it states that US travellers should avoid travel to Thailand, due to the high levels of Covid-19.

Then on 26th August the UK government announced that Thailand would be added to the Travel Red List from 30th August. This means that people are advised not to travel and anyone returning from Thailand would need to complete an expensive 10 day quarantine in an approved hotel.

Longtail boats in Phuket, Thailand credit Pablo Torrado on Unsplash

The impact of lower tourist numbers from the US and UK has already been felt and even though Covid-19 numbers are reducing in Thailand as a whole, the increasing numbers on Phuket will not help changing those advisories any time soon.

Covid-19 Cases

Many countries in Southeast Asia have seen increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks as the Delta variant spreads throughout the region.

The last few days has seen some hope in Thailand however that the worst may be in the past.

Today Thailand reported an additional 14,802 cases of Covid-19, significantly the sixteenth straight day of decreasing daily numbers. since the start of the pandemic, Thailand has seen 1,219,531 cases, the vast majority however have been since April this year which has seen 1,190,668 confirmed cases.

Phuket had up to now managed to escape the worse effects of the pandemic but unlike most of Thailand, cases are increasing.

The provincial governor of Phuket today confirmed that cases on the island were at “crisis level”.

There were an additional 258 cases of Covid-19 in Phuket announced today. The good news however is that just one of these cases involved a tourist.

Phuket beach paradise, Thailand credit Toma Solutions Internet on Unsplash

Continuing increasing numbers could see further curbs placed on domestic travel to the island or in permitted activities.

Restrictions In Phuket

To try and curb increasing Covid-19 cases in Phuket, restrictions were introduced in mid-July that affected many tourist related activities including the closure of entertainment venues, including bars. Domestic travel from other provinces of Thailand was also banned curtailing any domestic tourism.

Tourism organisations are now calling for these restrictions to be relaxed or removed completely despite the increasing numbers of local Covid-19 cases.

The very low numbers of tourists testing positive for the virus has led to confidence within the tourism industry that the relaxations can be safely relaxed without causing a further increase in numbers.

There are also increasing calls to relax the strict domestic entry restrictions. More than 75% of the Phuket population is now vaccinated and there are concerns that there is no a clear discrepancy between foreign and domestic tourists.

Why, local leaders say, can fully vaccinated travellers arrive from abroad but not from other areas of Thailand. With correct measures in place, they are confident that checks can be completed to only allow fully vaccinated tourists arrive from within Thailand.

It remains to be seen if Phuket can continue to attract significant numbers of tourists.

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Published by flyingdogtravel

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