However, key business figures on the island say there is still a long way to go for Phuket to mark a sincere start on its journey to economic recovery.
The easing of restrictions that came into effect last Saturday saw the sales of food and drinks allowed to resume in restaurants, food courts, cafeterias and eateries, excluding pubs and bars and drinking of alcohol.
Shopping malls, department stores and community malls are allowed to stay open from 10am to 8pm.
Also allowed to resume operations are retail and wholesale shops, limited meeting services at meeting rooms in hotels or convention centres, beauty clinics, cosmetic clinics and manicure shops, both inside and outside shopping malls.
Fitness centres outside shopping malls, department stories or community malls can resume operations only for yoga or free weight sections. Other exercise equipment, treadmills, cycling machines or group exercises are not allowed.
Areas that are to remain closed are cinemas, bowling alleys, game arcades, skating rinks, karaoke bars, amusement parks, water parks, zoos, snooker and billiard halls, game shops, fitness centres, health shops, Thai traditional massage, foot massage, tutorial schools, amulet trading shops and convention/meeting facilities.
Meanwhile, with still no notices from provincial officials, Phuket’s beaches also remain closed to all visitors.
More than 30,000 people were recorded as visiting the Central Festival and Central Phuket Floresta shopping malls on the first day of the malls reopening. The number of visitors to the malls that day even neared capacity: Central Festival can accommodate 19,500 visitors a day and Central Phuket Floresta 25,000 people.
The reopening of the Central Phuket malls alone also saw some 3,000 people return to work, Wilaiporn Pitimanaaree, Senior Vice President of Central Pattana, confirmed to The Phuket News.
Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the relaxation of the restrictions, which has thrown many suffering businesses on the island a lifeline.
“On the good side, business is back and running at the shopping malls, which is a fresh moment for people. It shows that we are getting back to normal,” Mr Thanusak told The Phuket News.
However, he cautioned, “But we are still having a hard time because the major income to Phuket province is the tourism industry. People are going back to work at small businesses, but they must save their money as a top priority. Don’t waste money on unnecessary things. While waiting for your salary, people must save and plan their money.”
Free meals and food contributions by charitable movements on the island as well as survivor bags from government assistance programs were still an important part to help non-employed people in Phuket, he said
“There are fewer people who need charity food because they now will have some money to buy food and basic essentials, but there are still many unemployed people who need help,” he added.
Mr Thanusak urged small business operators to do what they can to keep their businesses alive waiting on financial relief to arrive from the government and banks.
“Other than that I have very little advice at all. Do not invest with any big expenses that you cannot afford, and use the time now to Improve employees’ skills or renovate buildings, rooms or properties to be valuable so that you will be be ready when the right time comes,” he said.
Dr Chayanon Pucharoen, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the PSU Phuket Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism, only two weeks ago reported that his economic indicator forecast predicted that the COVID crisis was to cost Phuket more than B127bn – far beyond his initial estimates.
The reopening of scores of businesses across the island last week has done little to change his opinion.
He told The Phuket News on Tuesday that it is “big business” that needs to return to brighten Phuket’s prospect of a full recovery from the crisis – and for that to happen Phuket airport must reopen.
“Right now, people are going back to work at some small businesses and that is a good sign, but it is still small businesses that are operating, not big businesses. Big businesses still need tourists to use their services,”he said.
“Also, Phuket province is still having a hard time. We see people going out to shop and spend money after the subdistrict lockdown was lifted, but they are using their savings. I believe that such people can rely on their savings for only two to three months.
“How well the island’s economy will recover depends on the government for now. The economy will improve when the government opens the airport, then tourists will come, but safety and virus-prevention measures are needed for this to happen,” he added.
Like Mr Thanusak, Dr Chayanon urged business operators to make the best use of the forced downtime.
“Business owners must not stop employee training. You should train staff to have better skills and even add new skills in time for when tourists return in the future.
“But in the meantime, you need to find new sources of income until tourists return,” he said.