Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakan confirmed the news in Bangkok late last week that Phuket would be the first province in the country to receive international tourists under the plan. The protocols to be deployed in Phuket have been dubbed the “Phuket Model” and are to be used elsewhere throughout Thailand if proved successful.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn admitted to international media that opening the island to foreign tourists brought risk of exposing the country to COVID-19 infections.
“There is a risk in the new tourism model, but if we don’t open there is a bigger risk for the economy," he said.
Any tourists arriving under the plan must spend their first 14 days at an approved Alternative Local State Quarantine (ALSQ) hotel. “After that they can go anywhere on the island,” MoTS Phuket Director Mr Jaroon explained.
Tourists will be tested on landing and again at the end of their 14-day quarantine. “If they want to visit any other parts of the country, they will have to stay at their ALSQ for a further seven days and be tested again before they will be permitted to leave the island,” he said.
However, Mr Jaroon quickly added, “The protocols to be followed have not yet been confirmed. That will not happen until senior officials from the MoTS and the Ministry of Public Health have inspected the island. That is expected to happen in September.”
All final decisions will be made by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in Bangkok, Mr Jaroon noted, including whether tourists will be allowed to move freely within a one-kilometre radius of their hotel or even visit a segregated area on a nearby beach, as proposed by Minister Phiphat last week.
“We are also waiting for the CCSA to announce what rules we are to apply, and we have to wait for the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand [CAAT] to announce that Thailand will again be open to receiving international passenger flights. We have yet to hear any details regarding this,” he said.
Mr Jaroon explained that as of today many details had yet to be fleshed out, but the basic plan is not to try to re-ignite the short-stay mass tourism market, but instead target long-stay tourists who spend the northern hemisphere winter months is much-warmer Thailand.
“We expect these long-stay tourists to stay in the country anywhere from 30 to 90 days,” he said.
Such foreigners are expected to arrive on charter flights, which are more easily controlled, Mr Jaroon said.
“Also, after the foreigners have completed their 14-day quarantine, they can stay at any other accommodation they prefer,” he added.
Mr Jaroon admitted that at this stage he did not know which countries would be targeted with marketing campaigns, but assured, “Only tourists from countries that are deemed safe will be chosen.”
STUCK FOR CHOICE
Mr Jaroon noted that so far only two hotels on the island had been approved as ALSQ venues, despite 55 tourist accommodation venues applying for the privilege.
“These hotels are big hotels and there are only 22 medical teams in the country empowered to inspect and approve ALSQ venues, and each hotel must be partnered with a hospital as part of the process,” he said.
“We are focussing on having the big hotels approved first, as they have more rooms to accommodate guests. They are also more accustomed to abiding by strict health regulations and they have the space to keep ALSQ guests separated from other guests visiting or staying at the hotel.
“Also big hotels have more staff, which means more people will have jobs by these hotels being open. And as staff serving ALSQ quests will have to remain at the hotel, they will not be permitted to transit back and forth from home to work, the big hotels have accommodation where their own staff can safely stay,” he added.
However, how the hotels are to attract tourists to want to stay at their establishments will be solely up to the hotel managers themselves.
“The tourists will be staying at the hotel for at least 14 days, so the hotels will need to offer something to attract guests. Whatever the hotel wants to create – food buffets, entertainment and wellness activities – that is all up to the hotel to create its own marketing plan to reach their target market,” Mr Jaroon said.
Mr Jaroon admitted that the news had spurred mixed reaction among the public, from open support for the move to many people voicing their fears that re-opening to tourism will spark a COVID-19 outbreak on the island.
“That is up to Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew to communicate with the Phuket people, so they understand what is being done and to unite us together.
“But whatever we do with this, we need safety to be our first priority for Phuket province,” he added.
Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam this week defended the move to reopen the island to tourists, and voiced his strong support for the 14-day quarantine required after landing.
He also pointed out that proposal made to Royal Thai Army Deputy Commander-in-Chief Gen Natthapol Nakpanit – who also serves as the chairman of the CCSA’s ad hoc committee to consider easing the enforcement of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – was not made by the hotel industry alone during his visit to the island on Aug 13.
The move was supported by no less than 12 industry representatives on the island, he said.
“Only if there are clear steps, details, conditions and processes that are thoughtful and clear, will we agree [to receive foreign tourists],” Mr Bhummikitti added.
“There is no way for us to agree to any model that cannot ensure people’s safety. The details have yet to be announced. We are hoping to hear more explanations this coming week,” he said.
“We are confident that the tourists will not go home on the 15th day of their stay. I think they will keep travelling in Phuket province, and that will be better for our economy.
“Also, I expect this to start slowly, with the first group of tourists to arrive in Phuket being only a small group.
“Then Phuket people can learn and adjust to the new processes, and the number of tourists coming can grow slowly and safely,” he added.