The public posting of the list of recommendations for the government followed a meeting of the “Big Nine” at the offices of the Phuket City Development Co Ltd, better known by the initials PKCD, on Friday (Mar 13).
Present at the meeting were representatives from the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, Phuket Industry Council, Phuket Tourist Association, Thai Hotel Association Southern Chapter, Phuket Real Estate Association, Patong Hotel Association, Kata Karon Hotel Association and Phuket City Development Co Ltd.
The statement pointed out that according to the group’s information the number of arrivals at Phuket International Airport in February fell 42% on average compared with February last year. Of those, the number of international arrivals fell by 48%, while the number of domestic passengers arriving in Phuket fell by about 36%.
That trend only grew worse as March began, the statement noted.
The number of arrivals at the airport for March 1-10 fell by 52% on average compared with the same period last year. Of those, international arrivals fell by about 64% and domestic arrivals fell by about 38%.
While the number of arrivals from China, Hong Kong and South Korea plunged dramatically amid the travel bans and quarantine requirements, the number of Indian tourists also fell due to the cancellation of direct flights from India and the domestic flights connecting through Don Mueang International Airport and Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok.
“Italy and other countries in Europe not allowing their citizens to travel has had a huge impact on the travel of European tourists, and people from some of those countries prefer to travel to Phuket in the summer, such as Belgium, Netherlands and France,” the statement said.
Advance bookings have dropped considerably in March, April and May and charter flights from Russia, Finland and other Scandinavian countries are about to expire in mid-April 2020, the statement added.
ECONOMIC IMPACT SO FAR
According to the Phuket Tourism Business Association, the outbreak of the virus has cost Phuket at least B24.50 billion in lost revenues in the tourism industry in February alone, and at least a further B18,96bn in lost revenues in other industries, not including losses in the real estate sector, the statement said.
“Economic losses in March 2020 should be higher than estimates in February 2020 as the epidemic has spread throughout Europe and the number of people infected has increased dramatically and quickly,” the statement added.
The PTBA estimates that direct economic losses for Phuket’s tourism industry will be at least B29.7bn in March, and at least B20.96bn for other industries, again not including losses in the real estate sector.
The best prediction the PTBA could give, if the infection rate in China falls, is that Chinese tourists will start to return in late July. Even then, the association expects the number of Chinese tourists to reach only 50% of the number who travelled to Phuket during the same period last year. If the recovery starts that early, the association predicts that the number of tourists from China should return to near-normal levels during the Chinese National Day holidays in October
“As for other tourists from other countries, such as South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan, we have to wait to see signs of recovery over the same months,” the statement added.
While praising the intent and some of the efforts by the national government to contain the spread of the virus, the statement also highlighted some dire deficiencies in the government’s handling of the situation.
“Phuket is an important tourist destination of Thailand and has always created a great economic turnover for the country, but the administration of the government in the current system does not make Phuket immune from interference from external factors in any way,” the statement read.
“The outbreak of COVID-19 shows that the current government administration system is fragile and without effective management mechanisms, especially the budget system, which does not allocate a reserve budget for emergencies in order to be able to support important activities as needed,” it added.
“This results in ineffective measures for controlling the outbreak in Phuket, and the budget for supporting various operations requires fundraising from the private sector because we cannot wait for the budget from the government,” the statement said plainly.
“Confusion in how to comply with notifications by the Ministry of Public Health on matters outside of the Kingdom regarding contagious areas has raised many questions about how to proceed, including ways to control tourists from risk countries, including detaining them and tracking systems. This has raised questions about how this is to be done, especially with the unclear announcement about the 14-day detention centres for tourists from four serious risk countries,” the statement added.
“Although the private sector has made a request for clarification, we still have not received any clarification from the Ministry of Public Health.
“Instability in work and lack of integration of agencies in the screening process at Phuket Airport, especially with announcements from many departments, have resulted in many conflicting instructions, which have caused those [trying to] comply with the orders becoming confused and in the end, unable to do anything,” the statement added.
The statement pointed out that there is currently only one stationary thermoscan device at the airport. “In other areas, screening is done by handheld thermometers, which are less accurate and require much more manpower.
“At present, the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation [PPAO, or OrBorJor] has set a special budget for the purchase of four temperature monitors and is in the process of having the purchases approved. But is unknown when these temperature monitor will be in place at Phuket Airport.
“As for the procuring of thermoscan devices for Phuket Airport that have been approved by the Board of Directors of the Airports Authority of Thailand, currently no progress has been made,” the statement explained.
The statement from the nine associations “urged” the government to establish a “Phuket COVID-19 Crisis Management Command Center” to operate outside the bounds of the usual bureaucracy “in order to integrate all departments to be able to prepare and handle the outbreak in the third phase and to be the only unit that commands the control and supervision of various measures by the government, both economically and socially, to achieve maximum efficiency, including making preparations by use of scenarios to respond to an outbreak of the highest severity so we are prepared before the real event occurs.”
The group called on the government to consider allocating a budget of at least B100 million to set up such a command centre. The budget is to account for the provision of the necessary medical equipment and IT support required to monitor people in quarantine, the setting up of an appropriate site with the needed equipment and facilities for people to be held in quarantine to be used as a “reserve hospital” in advance.
The command centre should be run and staffed by experts and other people with the appropriate credentials and experience in crisis management “who are not regular civil servants from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Public Health, because the implementation of the previous measures shows the limited potential for managing Phuket in a crisis by both the Phuket Governor and Phuket Public Health Chief,” the statement said.
The statement listed seven key recommendations, as follows:
- A Phuket COVID-19 Crisis Management Command Centre should be set up and be independent from the Phuket Government.
- Flights from six risk areas should be banned for at least 30 days, and possibly longer, depending on the situation in each area.
- Use appropriate technology to screen all people coming to Phuket
- Local administrations should spend money on buying medical equipment for doctors and relevant officers.
- Set the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) as the main organisation to identify which technology is to be used to screen people passing through Phuket International Airport, the Phuket Check Point (at Tha Chatchai), and other main ports of entry to the island.
- Local administration officers should provide medical training to local residents so they can help local hospital staff to check those who are self-quarantined at their homes or other accommodation.
- The Phuket Reporters Association should be the main organisation for collecting information from relevant officers and presenting it to the public.
Sarayuth Mallam, President of Phuket Tourism Industry Council and the Phuket Tourist Association’s Vice President of Government Relations, was among several key representatives who held a press conference in Phuket Town today to discuss the statement, which he stressed was not yet a formal request to the government.
Mr Sarayuth explained to The Phuket News today, “Phuket’s tourism industry has slowed down as the virus has spread to across the world, especially affecting our key tourist source markets.
“We drafted this statement at the meeting on Friday, but at this stage it has a not been formally proposed to any level of government,” he said.
“The statement was created specifically regarding Phuket as we believe each area has been affected differently, and there should be an individual plan for each area,” he said.