Speaking after heading a meeting at phuket Provincial Hall, Mr Yuthasak confirmed that the July 1 reopening to international tourists was going ahead, while admitting that many factors still need to be taken into account and remedied.
Mr Yuthasak said him joining the meeting yesterday was to prepare for joining a meeting of the Center for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) in Bangkok tomorrow(June 4), where many aspects of the Phuket Sandbox model will be discussed by the committee, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
“Today, I came to Phuket to have a meeting with local officers and relevant private sector representatives as well as the director of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT),” Mr Yuthasak said.
“On June 4, there will be a meeting of the CESA which will be chaired by the Prime Minister. The main topic for the meeting is the plan to open ‘Phuket Sandbox’ that came after the meeting on March 26,” he added.
Mr Yuthasak said he appreciated the progress made to make the Sandbox launch possible. “People have been working so hard on the project, including the vaccination in Phuket which we believe can achieve herd immunity within this month, in order to open and welcome vaccinated foreign tourists,” he noted.
“The second aspect of the project is developing our city [sic, meaning Phuket] in both the short and long term under the project named ‘Better Phuket’, which is going very well,” he added.
“The third aspect is driving the demand through marketing. It is pretty satisfying that we have direct flights by airlines to Phuket from July,” he noted.
“It’s such a great intention and confidence among Phuket people to move forward to open the island to foreign tourists. I hope that in the meeting [tomorrow], there will be something beneficial and supportive for Phuket Sandbox,” Mr Yuthasak said.
“We [the TAT] will work on the things under our authority. For the Phuket Sandbox, we do not only focus on foreign tourists, but also Thai tourists. We are ready to promote among Thai people to come to Phuket during the Sandbox period.
“We will cooperate with relevant officials and the private sector to solve problems, such as vaccination or transport. And of course, to boost the confidence among Phuket people,” he said.
Mr Yuthasak said safety was a key concern in allowing foriegn tourists to return. Only on Tuesday did he confirm that which countries the tourist arrivals come from will determine how long they will have to stay in Phuket before being allowed to travel elsewhere in Thailand.
He also assured that only tourists from low-risk countries will be allowed.
“The opening to vaccinated foreign tourists from low-risk countries will not affect Phuket people’s lives and safety for sure. Local people can do everything as usual, as Phuket will be safe,” Mr Yuthasak said.
“From the June 4 meeting, the information about the Phuket Sandbox will be clarified, including how tourists will stay, how and when they will be tested,” he added.
“There will be an official announcement through the Royal Gazette, which is what agencies in the [source market] countries want. Many airlines have plans to operate flights, but they want to see the announcement as evidence to prove the opening date,” he noted.
“The information right now is quite clear. Foreign tourists can stay how many days they want in Phuket if they do not go to other provinces. However, we still discuss that they may have to stay on the island at least 14 days to be allowed to go to other provinces in accordance with the current order by the CCSA [Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, in Bangkok].
“They can stay five, 10 or 12 days in Phuket and fly out, but if they want to go to other provinces, they have to be in Phuket at least 14 days. That is what we are still discussing,” Mr Yuthasak said.
Regarding the testing of arrivals for COVID-19 after they arrive in Phuket, Mr Yuthasak explained, “For now, we plan to conduct swab tests on arrival [day 0], day 6 and day 12. Who will be responsible for the tests? For any cost of testing, which is for the safety of Phuket people, the government may have to find a budget to support this cost,” he noted.
“If the testing is to be beneficial for the individual tourists, for example, when returning to their countries, if their governments ask them to present documents to prove they are not infected, they will have to pay for the test by themselves,” he added.
Mr Yuthasak admitted that the reopening will not be a return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism, but at least a reopening.
“In the third quarter, we expect about 129,000 foreign tourists to come. The number is not high, compared to the number of hotel rooms in Phuket,” he said.
“For domestic tourists, there is a holiday in July. We will cooperate with airlines and hotels to create special promotions for vaccinated Thai people to come to Phuket. To prove to them that the Phuket Sandbox is not only a paradise for foreigners, but also for Thai people.”
Mr Yuthasak recognised the formal request for soft loans to be made available so that Phuket tourism operators can provide appropriate services to foreign tourists.
“For soft loans for operators, the national government has been trying to help, but there are limitations, including banks’ conditions. We are not ignoring this issue and will raise this issue to be discussed at the meeting [tomorrow],” he said.