Thailand’s planned reopening of the resort island Phuket next month to vaccinated visitors, bypassing quarantine requirements, has met a lukewarm response, with hotel bookings indicating expected occupancy of less than 20% so far.
The “Phuket Sandbox” initiative from July 1 will allow free movement on the island for tourists fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with no self-isolation on arrival. They will be given a green light to travel elsewhere in Thailand after 14 days.
But there are a few tricky conditions with the plan, that is set to be finalised this month, and many industry professionals have complained that uncertainty and constant rule changes are deterring bookings.
“This will be a slow process. None of us are expecting a 100% occupancy on July 2,” said Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association.
Thai Airways is on board with the initiative, with direct flights from six European cities to Phuket from July, although it anticipates only a fraction of seats being filled, with about 100 passengers in the first week, one the airline’s representatives said.
For an economy reliant on tourism for jobs and consumption, the new arrivals won’t bring immediate relief, although removal of the costly, two-week quarantine requirements that deterred tourists for more than a year offers some hope.
“We’re seeing strong interest, particularly from the Middle East, UK, Europe and Scandinavia already, to return to Phuket gradually,” Lark said.
Thailand lost about $50 billion in tourism revenue last year when foreign arrivals plunged 83% to 6.7 million, from a record 39.9 million in 2019.
The slump was attributed to global travel curbs and Thailand’s tough entry requirements. Phuket was particularly hard hit by job losses and business closures.
The government hopes the Phuket Sandbox will draw 129,000 visitors to the country in the third quarter – a far cry from the average 3.3 million monthly arrivals to Thailand in 2019. Typically, a quarter of Thailand’s visitors go to Phuket.
Thailand had just 28,701 visitors in the first four months of this year. Do you think the initiative will help travellers regain the confidence they need to start travelling internationally again? Let us know – email [email protected]
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