Asia Pacific Thai tourism set for sluggish reboot as Phuket stutters on ‘sandbox’

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Empty chairs are seen on a beach which is usually full of tourists, amid fear of coronavirus in Phuket, Thailand March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

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, too, and many industry professionals have complained that uncertainty and constant rule changes are deterring bookings. The plan won’t be finalised until later this month.

“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 (THAI.BK) is on board, with direct flights from six European cites 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.

Read the full article at Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thai-tourism-set-sluggish-reboot-phuket-stutters-sandbox-2021-06-18/

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