The decimated tourism industry, very much the lifeblood of entertainment venues, has had, and will continue to have, a hugely detrimental effect. Even with Phuket airport reopening to domestic flights today (June 13), it remains closed to international visitors and, even when open, there is bound to be trepidation for many to travel in the immediate future.
The closure of entertainment venues in Patong alone is estimated to have costed Phuket B100 million a day in lost revenues, according to Weerawit Kreuasombat, President of the Patong Entertainment Business Association (PEBA).
“We don’t think we are ready to open,” said Mr Weerawit. “Almost 100% of the customers in the Patong entertainment area are foreigners and overseas tourists. We don’t think Thai people will visit entertainment venues in Patong.”
When asked how much the lockdown has cost business owners in Phuket’s entertainment industry, Mr Weerawit replied: “It cannot be estimated. It is a lot. For example, a small bar would have lost about B300,000 per month; a medium business up to a million per month and larger businesses about 20-30 million per month.
“More than a thousand staff have lost their jobs and we will know how many businesses have gone bankrupt in the next month.
“Many operators are also reluctant to open while they have to pay full rental costs,” he added.
A major sticking point is that Bangla Rd is still the only place under lockdown in Phuket, despite the national nighttime curfew to be lifted on Monday (June 15) and while alcohol from Monday can be served at restaurants.
Government assistance is key to helping businesses find their feet again and to stand a chance of future survival, insisted Mr Weerawit.
“The Phuket provincial office needs to act as an intermediary and be able to negotiate with the business owner, landlord and banks,” he said.
“They should also have the authority to engage and talk with the Bank of Thailand for tax and fee exception purposes, ideally once bar owners have opened their business for three months.
“We had previously requested a tax discount of B100,000 for businesses but it was set at only B10,000, which is not enough.
“Such measures will help greatly in efforts to survive during these very challenging times,” he stated.
‘A special place’
When asked about his thoughts on the future, Mr Weerawit said he doubts Phuket will be the same again.
“Businesses will come back but I suspect we will see them increasingly replaced by different types of operators. Bangla Rd, for example, will witness more restaurants offering musical entertainment, venues where customers are seated at tables, making it easier to observe social distancing rules.”
Safety measures will be crucial and Mr Weerawit outlined suggestions that he feels need to be employed for when business does resume.
“There needs to be thermal scanning facilities at two points on Bangla Rd to enable tourists to be checked before entering,” he said.
“Additionally, more COVID-19 testing labs in Phuket are required to manage the potential number of tourists. Currently, there is only a lab in Phuket Vachira Hospital which can handle only 400 samples per day, which is insufficient if the tourist numbers resume.”
Despite the unprecedented challenges and inevitable change Mr Weerawit maintains optimism.
“I still believe that Phuket is a special place for tourists and am confident they will, ultimately, return,” he concluded.