The systems and guidelines for service providers and business operators are in place, and Phuket is miles ahead of the rest of the country in vaccination numbers, which as of yesterday stood at: 1st jab 466,275 (85.15% of the target 547,584); 2nd jab 424,001 (77.43%); and 3rd “booster” jab 253,384 (59.82%). That’s not including the number of people across the island who have been inoculated the old fashioned way, by recovering after being infected with COVID-19.
The number of people allowed to attend events in Phuket has been raised to 500, and major sports events such as the top-flight Asian Tour golf tourneys to be held on the island are on their way. As for the kerfuffle this week over the much-touted ‘Lisa’ Manobal and Andrea Bocelli Phuket New Year concerts, we’re just going to take the positive sign that Tourism & Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn took the bullet himself, without denying or deflecting. When was the last time anyone saw a Thai Minister admit and apologise for a mistake? At least Mr Phiphat’s being honest. That’s a win.
It seems that we have reached the point where welcoming visitors has finally arrived, but we’d be fools to believe how much the suffering in Phuket played a part in the decision. The Sandbox has been a success as a systems and policy test, and the number of arrivals did “throw a lifeline” to some businesses on the island, but months have shown that the expected economic impact did not happen – and that alone spurred no changes whatsoever.
The pressure has come from Bangkok, again highlighted by duality in announcing that alcohol may be sold in restaurants in the capital starting tomorrow, while Patttaya – which has a much lower infection rate – must wait.
In Phuket, alcohol has been allowed to be served in restaurants and other “food and beverage” outlets since Oct 1, but officials have yet to sort out the silly bar ban. Bangla Rd may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is a popular attraction that tourists visit just to witness the spectacle, not to partake. It is part of the combination of attractions on the island that generates the appeal for tourists to want to come to Phuket.
It seems the caveman logic of seeking refuge in a cave to hide from a predator has run its course. Sooner or later the caveman must risk leaving the cave, or starve. The national government now knows that keeping the barriers to tourism up will only drive the country further into debt. And at this stage the rest of the world has made the decision for them, with vaccination rates and the easing of rules opening the door to travel in source markets, as opposed to Thailand standing ready and waiting to receive them.
There’s a long road ahead, but Phuket’s prospects for truly opening the door to economic recovery and relieving much of the hardship suffered by residents on the island for nigh two years are looking the best they have for a long time. Let’s make it count.