The consortium of leading Phuket businesses is already moving to secure COVID vaccinations from private sources, including some 40,000 doses from the Bangkok Hospital group, instead of waiting for the government to roll out its vaccination campaign.
The news came at a ‘roundtable’ discussion event held at the Hotel Indigo Phuket Patong on Friday (Jan 29), joined by many key Phuket tourism figures.
Chernporn Karnjanasaya, President of the Federation of Phuket Industries, opened the event by explaining, “The private sector in Phuket has emphasised the balance needed between controlling the virus outbreak and the economic development on the island.
“We have to thank the central government for the effectiveness of disease control. We also understand that the inability of the government to not be able to help Phuket as fast as the problems have happened,” she said.
“However, Phuket has been one province that has had an important role for national tourism and the national economy for at least 20 years. For the current economic situation, if there is not a good strategy and effective management, the problems will become even worse,” she added.
Dr Chayanon Pucharoen, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the PSU Phuket Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism, pointed out, “From research from PSU Phuket campus, people in Phuket are facing an ‘acute crisis’.
Noting that many people across the island were already below the poverty line, Dr Chayanon added, “The income of more people is likely to fall lower than the national poverty line.”
“The research explained that it is highly likely for people in Phuket to receive about B1,984 per month from February to September this year, while the national poverty line is about B3,004 per month,” he said.
Sarayuth Mallam, President of Phuket Tourism Industry Council, explained, “The thing that we want to ask from the government is not budget, but encouragement and the support in terms of policy which can revive Phuket to stand strong again.
“So far, we have asked for support many times and we have already got some [support], but not all that we asked.
“Before this, the Deputy Prime Minister of Economy [sic] said that ‘Phuket is not Thailand’. I really hope that I will not hear that sentence again in response to this proposal.”
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, President of Phuket Tourist Association, explained it is necessary for Phuket to receive help “as fast as any change, to save this tourism-dependent island”.
“The whole private sector altogether agrees to set October 1 as the date to start welcoming vaccinated tourists without the need to quarantine. If we miss this opportunity, it will not only make a massive impact on the economy, but also create more social problems,” he said.
“We will do everything to help our brothers and sisters in the tourism industry survive, and ready for October 1 this year.
“Today our brothers and sisters are depressed and hopeless. When looking into their eyes, we see no fire of a fighter. What we are doing right now is our last try. It takes our last breath on this, and we hope to receive the understanding and support from the government.”
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern chapter, explained that the main tourist source markets for Phuket are European countries, where their government is already providing vaccines to their citizens.
“European tourists mostly spend about one to two weeks for each trip, and they like to travel in the fourth quarter of the year, which starts from October. Therefore, we have a clear and possible plan to welcome them. We will start promoting in April to let tourists make their plan and let our people get ready to welcome them,” he said.
Mr Bhummikitti explained that re-opening for tourism by Oct 1 depended on five factors, each dependent on clarity from the government.
First was clarity from the government about whether vaccinated foreign tourists needed to observe a quarantine, and if no quarantine were required, which vaccine will be recognised by the government.
“Right now, the Thai government has approved only two companies – Sinovac and AstraZeneca – while some tourists may have received vaccines from Modena, Novavax or Pfizer,” he said.
Second was clarity from the government about the distribution of the vaccine for local residents and business operators in Phuket.
Third was clarity from the government about the approval for local administrative organisations to buy vaccines by themselves for their people.
Fourth was clarity from the government about the registration of other vaccine-producing companies, in order to be open to use a greater range of vaccines.
Fifth was clarity from the government about the approval for private companies to buy vaccines for their staff from private hospitals.
One of the key goals of the campaign, promoted under #phuketfirstoctober, was to make 70% of people, especially staff in the tourism industry on the island, to be vaccinated, Mr Bhummikitti said.
People needed to have two doses of vaccines before Sept 1 in order to have immunity, and definitely in order to welcome vaccinated tourists from Oct 1, he said.
Ms Chernporn noted, “The private sector has negotiated to buy vaccines from private hospitals, and at this stage [the private hospital] are calculating what can be provided. If the central government agrees with our plan, we will be vaccinated with the vaccines from Sinovac before Songkran [April 13].”
“We have discussed this together and concluded that staff in the tourism industry will spend their own money for the cost of the vaccines. For our future, we will invest by ourselves,” she added.
As the ‘roundtable’ event concluded, Mr Sarayuth said, “What we are waiting for from the government is approval to save Phuket. We do not ask for money anymore, but we ask for understanding, encouragement and approval to let us follow our plans. The rest, we will do ourselves.”
Mr Kongsak concurred. “If the government cannot give us approval or any answer in time, prepare yourself to face social problems. If our plan is not approved, we will not see foreign investors coming to buy hotels and any other properties on the island,” he said.
“If the day comes, how can the government show that they are being responsible? Today we do ask only for the approval for our plan,” he said.
Mr Sarayuth continued: “If Phuket can survive, Thailand also can. I believe so. If the government approves and let us follow our plan, the government will gain more tax which can be spent to help other areas.
“If the government approves our plan, we will see about 40-50% of the number of tourists we had in 2019 coming this year. It will be a great beginning point for Phuket to carry on.”
Mr Bhummikitti concluded, “Phuket is so beautiful today, but the beauty comes with the worst economic crisis ever.
“We cannot bear this situation anymore. Today is all about the ‘economy of hope’ [sic] and the last ticket to resolving this crisis is vaccines,” he said.