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Safety First: Caution vital as Phuket becomes testbed for international tourists

Safety First: Caution vital as Phuket becomes testbed for international tourists

PHUKET: Safety is the key priority in opening Phuket to receive ‘travel bubble’ tourists from Oct 1 under the government policy ‘Safe and Sealed’, the Director of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MoTS) Phuket Office, Jaroon Kaewmukdakul, has told The Phuket News.

COVID-19tourismeconomicshealthCoronavirus
By Tanyaluk Sakoot

Tuesday 25 August 2020, 03:42PM


Passengers receive hand sanitiser on arrival at Phuket International Airport. Photo: AoT Phuket

Passengers receive hand sanitiser on arrival at Phuket International Airport. Photo: AoT Phuket

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.

Property in Phuket

“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.

CONTAINMENT

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.

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Kurt | 26 August 2020 - 14:34:14

ALSQ-Normal guests combined in 1 hotel. Untrained staff separated working in ALSQ part and Normal part of the hotel? Managers can do what they want to reach their target market? Q-tourist can walk around till 1 km from their hotel? What kind of public fooling fake nonsense quarantine is that? It's just a idiot cover up money making scam.

CaptainJack69 | 26 August 2020 - 12:18:28

Wait, what, this guy is talking about segregating them from local guests inside the hotel? They want to have local guests in the same hotels?! Then why bother quarantining anyone at all? The madness continues.

CaptainJack69 | 26 August 2020 - 11:39:21

The irony of saying safety first" in a country that kills over 70 people a day on its roads. That's more than COVID has 'killed' in 6 months.

LALALA | 26 August 2020 - 11:14:41

Again...NOBODY will come...but as long this increases the chance on a one way flight BKK-Almaty I am OK...get on with this nonsense guys.

JohnC | 26 August 2020 - 08:36:41

Good luck with that! Do they really think foreign tourists will come here under those restrictions? LOL

Kurt | 26 August 2020 - 06:39:57

Is it wise to use Phuket as a testbed/guinea pig? Take a smaller island for that if the best thing, keeping 'testbeds' in Bangkok, is not a option. Indonesia is wiser, it keeps Bali closed for international tourism till end of 2020.

drmokie | 26 August 2020 - 00:16:56

Ridiculous. I have a house, 2.5 year-old child (not married) and I cannot come. I’m one of the few Farangs that wouldn’t mind the 14-day quarantine. Farangs for vacation won’t come!

Edward Reumann | 25 August 2020 - 21:10:16

Seriously?  The average "Tourist" is probably afforded 1 or 2 weeks for a vacation.  Confined to their room? And as the article says, weighing health safety versus Economy.  My suggestion, require Health Clearance from certified doctor within 24 hours of traveling from list of "Low Risk" countries. Should I return home to America and then come back to Phuket, I will fall under ...

Nasa12 | 25 August 2020 - 19:16:16

It’s not 14-day quarantine it’s 16 days total. 

Capt B | 25 August 2020 - 17:40:35

I am not a tourist. I have a wife & 2 children to look after in Phuket, I've been stuck in Aust. since Feb. There is no way knowing you will get me in a Quarantine Hotel. Look at Melbourne, that is where the 2nd wave pandemic started, Quarantine Hotels were the cause of it. It is now apparent that once one has 19, it stays with one for life. Do not risk it. Wait for a vaccine. Phuket-Guine...

 

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