Strongly voiced opinions on the issue run the gamut from don’t reopen the island to tourism until everyone living and working in Phuket has been vaccinated lest arrivals import a COVID variant that unleashes another outbreak; to reopen the island now because of the extent of the financial hardship suffered by so many on the island; to don’t bother reopening the island because no one will come.
What people believe about any of this is personal choice, but as it stands right now it is likely that at least some of people will be wrong. The worst case scenario is that all of them are right.
What no-one is disagreeing with is the economic impact the ban on inbound tourists has had on working people all across the island. The economic damage has been nigh devastating.
All major figures involved in the reopening are also now agreeing that the reopening will only open the door to tourism recovery; it will not be an instant fix to a return to mass tourism.
Nanthasiri Ronnasiri, Director of the Phuket office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), said she expects about 6,000 foreign arrivals in July, but if the scheme proves successful expects arrivals to balloon to 120,000-129,000 (depending on which report you read) in the first three months.
Using that projection, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, Secretary-General of the Prime Minister’s Office and spokesperson to the economic body of the CCSA, who arrived in Phuket on a visit only yesterday, says that the Phuket reopening is expected to generate up to B15 billion in the first three months.
That seems hopeful. Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, says he expects only 1,000 arrivals in the first month.
Yet everyone agrees that Phuket has enough hotels for the small number of visitors that are expected to arrive. Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern chapter, says just the 300 hotels that are operating will be enough. Whether Phuket has enough of the right businesses to make coming to Phuket an attractive option is another matter.
In all this the message is clear: July 1 is going ahead. At this stage is appears the reopening is going ahead with or without Phuket reaching the target of vaccinating 70% of the island’s population first.
Natapanu Nopakun, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Information and Deputy Spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, speaking from Government House in Bangkok in delivering in the English-language briefing of the CCSA meeting on Friday, has perhaps delivered the best commonsense policy anyone has heard about July 1 for months.
“There must be a start. We have to start somewhere, and we will start with Phuket as the pilot province,” he said.
Noting that a contingency plan was being drawn up “if the situation is not controllable as soon as the province is opened”, Mr Natapanu clearly added, “Just in layman’s terms I can say that whatever is opened can still be closed.”
If that is what it takes, so be it. Right now it looks like everyone has their fingers crossed.