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Phuket Opinion: Blowing bubbles

Phuket Opinion: Blowing bubbles

PHUKET: The best news of the week by far was the announcement by Royal Thai Army Deputy Commander-in-Chief Gen Natthapol Nakpanit that the test group for ‘travel bubble’ tourists to come to Phuket may begin as early as next week with a small test group arriving via Bangkok.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 16 August 2020, 09:00AM

Gen Natthapol Nakpanit walks past the empty Immigration queue area at Phuket International Airport during his visit on Thursday (Aug 13). Photo: AoT Phuket

Gen Natthapol Nakpanit walks past the empty Immigration queue area at Phuket International Airport during his visit on Thursday (Aug 13). Photo: AoT Phuket

Gen Natthapol wasn’t wrong in pointing out that Phuket needs to figure out where such tourists are going to go and what they are going to do once they get here, while keeping those activities COVID- compliant and minimising the risk of the local people contracting any new infections.

Some resort franchises pride themselves on the “resort only” experience, but most tourists want to venture out and actually experience the destination they are visiting, like all the events our key tourism figures are currently promoting. Tourists will not want to remain confined to their “quarantine resort”.

Allowing this movement while keeping such tourists “contained” may seem to be self-contradictory, but Phuket already has much experience with this ‘travel bubble’ concept – ironically through the cheap package tours offered to Chinese tourists even before COVID-19 broke out. These tourists all arrived on the same plane, boarded the same bus at the airport, stayed at the same hotel and were taken to the same so-called ‘tourist attractions’ and on the same tours on their group itinerary. Aptly, critics called these ‘zero-baht tours’.

In short, travel bubbles is nothing new here, and this might be what Vichit Prakobgosol, President of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), might have been alluding to earlier this week when he said that Phuket showed the strongest potential to receive the first group of international tourists.

What also must be remembered is that while this form of tourism seems too restrictive for Western tourists to enjoy, for many people in Asia it is nearly the norm. Considering the spike in the number of infections now being reported in many such “higher-end” tourism source market countries, that might be a handy coincidence. It also makes Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam’s initial proposal months ago to first target South Korea and Japan for travel bubbles more likely.

Diamond Resort Phuket

However, at this stage no key Phuket figures are publicly recognising that even if the doors are opened for international tourists to arrive, how many can still afford to come due to the global economic impact of the anti-virus policies implemented around the world remains in grave doubt.

On that point, as even Patong magnate Preechawut ‘Prab’ Keesin recognised this week, prices must fall. While officials have focussed much of the attention on hotel rates and seafood prices, they have obliqued the fares charged by Phuket taxi and tuk-tuk “public transport” cartels. Our officials might want to start looking into that, as even Thai tourists are not going to come to Phuket if the most expensive part of their holiday is getting around.

Gen Natthapol, who also serves as the chairman of the ad hoc committee to consider easing the enforcement of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, under Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), can also feel free to take that particular issue back to Bangkok.

Meanwhile, even if the travel bubble test group does begin in the coming week, the 14-day trial run will not be completed until the beginning of September, but one thing is for sure: the sooner they start, the better – it will be one more step in the right direction. At this stage Phuket tourism figures just want the option on the table.

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CaptainJack69 | 17 August 2020 - 12:27:56

Where does it say anything about a 14 day quarantine? After 14 days people could just be allowed in normally, no 'bubble' needed. In most countries that's what people would have to do on returning home, 14 days quarantine. The travel bubble concept scraps quarantine, and allows people from infection free areas, 'containing' them whilst here.

Pascale | 17 August 2020 - 10:25:14

Kurt,when was the last time you have been on a beach on Phuket ?  On most beaches you will find chairs and umbrellas !

Kurt | 17 August 2020 - 07:48:35

How good were the times until April 2014, beach chairs, umbrellas, drinks at chair, beach cleaning by chair owners, small restaurants/cafetarias at beaches to have lunch. And now? Polluted beaches, just cleaned once in a while. Have to lay down on hot sand, no umbrellas, no drinks. What a desolate polluted Phuket beach scene. And many jobs gone.

JSombra | 17 August 2020 - 00:39:14

'for many people in Asia it is nearly the norm. '
You skipped something else that's the norm for Asian tourists here,less than a week average stay.Their quarantine periods would be double their average stay.Quarantine works for them even less than for westerners,especially as Asia is being slower at opening than the west.6 day holiday in quarantine here,14 days on return...

ThorFinger | 16 August 2020 - 22:40:13

2 weeks quarantine?? Don't be ridiculous. Tourists will be coming from places that don't have lockdowns in place and are already from places with decreased infection rates. They won't come to an island that is ALL about external activities, to be locked in a hotel or resort for 2 weeks. Seriously, use your brains! It's embarrassing. 

ericphuket | 16 August 2020 - 17:13:41

It seems that these people have not driven around the island. 95% is closed, the island look like a ghost town. Dont know what tourists will do here at the moment. But not many will come 2 weeks quarantine is unacceptable for travelers.

Kurt | 16 August 2020 - 11:21:00

The 'zero baht tours' are a typical asian happening, and it are always tours of a few days only. ( lesser than 1 week, from home-> back to home). So for this group 14 days quarantine will not work. And western foreigners not go in 14 days room ASQ detention during a 14 days holiday package to Thailand, not even talking about their rejection of 'Safe & Sealed' regimental.

Pascale | 16 August 2020 - 11:10:27

There won't be much international tourism here this year with all that hassle.But I read on here about the perfect new golden destination Kazakhstan.Nice girls, best food and everything cheap cheap.And if tourists don't care about some made up and fake negative facts,they will get the best time of their lives.Sounds great,right ?


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