The group of small business operators, about 100 in number, first gathered at Queen Sirikit Park in Phuket Town, brandishing placards with slogans including, “SHA+ issues are causing us trouble” and “SHA plus is a cold-blooded killer”.
The SHA Plus scheme, also called SHA+, is the government’s certification that the venues or service provided is fully compliant with Ministry of Public Health regulations and provincial orders issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The requirement for tourists to stay only at SHA+ hotels was unfair towards small business operators, the operatorssaid yesterday.
After gathering at Queen Sirikit Park on Thalang Rd, the operators marched to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phuket office on Ranong Rd to present a formal request addressed to the Minister of Tourism and Sports and the Governor of Phuket for the government to cancel the requirement.
Present to receive the request were Phuket Vice Governor Pichet Panapong and TAT Phuket Director Nanthasiri Ronnasiri.
Standing by monitoring the event were both uniformed and non-uniformed police officers. There were no incidents of violence during the gathering, the march or in handing over the formal request.
One of the group, Thipsukhon Thongton, praised the move to reopen the country to tourists from Monday (Nov 1).
“This has given business owners in Phuket hope of making money after having no income for about two years due to the COVID-19 situation,” she said.
However, the SHA+ requirement for tourists entering the country greatly affected operators who have been unable to be approved as SHA+ venues, she added.
“Small tour operators, especially hotels and private buses, have been unable to reach the customer group since SHA+ is required, even though more than 70% of vaccinated employees can apply for that standard,” Ms Thipsukhon said.
“In reality, accessing these standards is very difficult because there is no clear host to enquire and follow up because people have to apply through online channels only. This causes delays in applying for SHA plus, which causes loss of livelihood opportunities and earnings,” she explained.
“The procedures and methods are very complex. Operators who do not have expertise in using the system are unable to access the application, and there are no personnel to contact for assistance in applying. Approval takes a long time for unknown reasons. No explanations for the delay are given,” she added.
“Non-public health concerns also have been tied to the SHA plus considerations to limit the rights and opportunities for customer service in a subtle way. Such obstacles make many business operators lose the opportunity to earn an income and causes an impact on the economic recovery of Phuket as a whole,” Ms Thipsukhon said.
“In addition, tourists are forced to use SHA+ services in some businesses such as hotels and airport pickups, while other places and general business where tourists go are not required to be SHA+ approved, such as department stores, convenience stores, restaurants, gas stations, and so on. This creates inequalities in society and the economy,” she said.
“This is in addition to the current situation in Phuket, where more than 70% of the people have had two vaccination injections,” she added.
“The affected groups continue to support the SHA and Phuket Sandbox standards., but the affected groups are of the opinion that the SHA+ standard should no longer be used because it is a barrier to trade, making it impossible for small operators to reach customers,” Ms Thipsukhon said.
Vice Governor Pichet noted that according to the criteria for accepting tourists from Nov 1, “some of these groups are unable to accept tourists, because it is not allowed by hotel law.”
The definition of hotel under the Hotel Act does not include many businesses that are legally allowed to operate as accommodation venues, and hence are unable to be approved as SHA+, he said.
He also countered that from Nov 1, inbound tourists are required to stay at a SHA+ hotel for only one night. “The rest of the time they can choose to stay at other accommodation venues,” he said.
However, V/Gov Pichet did concede the point that the operators were calling for the SHA+ requirement to be cancelled because more than 70% of people in Phuket have been vaccinated, and invited the operators to join a meeting at Provincial Hall to discuss the issue further.