Following reports that Phuket will not be ready to reopen on July 1, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha went online last Sunday (June 13) and posted confirmation on his own Facebook page that July 1 will go ahead.
PM Prayut stressed that the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ project was initiated in line with his guidelines to slowly reopen the country to vaccinated foreign tourists to revive tourism. The PM pointed out that the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), which he chairs, had already approved the project. However, he also noted that the Sandbox model had yet to be approved by the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Cabinet, which at last report was expected to pass final judgement on the July 1 reopening next Tuesday (June 22).
PM Prayut is now scheduled to visit Phuket in person to conduct an inspection visit next Friday (June 25).
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn was already in Phuket in person last Saturday (June 12) to lead a workshop with leading local tourism figures to go over the Sandbox requirements for allowing foreign visitors onto the island.
Mr Yuthasak noted that many tour operators, and governments, were waiting for final confirmation of the requirements of the Sandbox policy by publication in the Royal Gazette, which should be announced in the final week of June to meet the scheme timeline.
Mr Yuthasak said the TAT acknowledged there was growing concern and discontent among the private sector about the additional measures for tourist destinations to reopen, which could discourage visitors in the initial stages. He insisted the tighter screening measures were necessary as the Public Health Ministry had stressed that no tourist should be infected while roaming the island.
“We should accept an influx of tourists is unlikely in the third quarter. The Sandbox scheme was established as a test run, which means it is a gradual process where we determine the best practices to allow other destinations to follow suit,” Mr Yuthasak said.
ARE WE READY?
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, President of the Thai Hotels Association Southern chapter, this week told The Phuket News, “Phuket is very ready, in terms of both business operators and preparation. As the Phuket Governor said, we need three levels of being ready: Phuket, Thailand, and the world.”
“Right now, Phuket is ready because our people are vaccinated, and we have enough or even more than enough for tourism industry businesses that are opening to welcome 120,000 tourists in the third quarter of this year.
“Is Thailand ready? We are speeding up to make agreements and confirm conditions on everything, which needs to be approved by the CCSA as soon as possible.”
However, Mr Kongsak noted, “If the measures come to be very strict, then tourism cannot move on, and tourists will not come. If the measures come to be not strict, we may have a fourth and subsequent outbreaks, and tourists will not come.
“So every ministry needs to take this all in together and come up with the decision, which must be the most natural. No political issues involved,” he said.
“For the world level, we cannot control anything, as it is all about international relations policy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Tourism and Sports should have made agreements to have travel bubbles with countries, but we have not seen anything,” he added.
Phuket already has enough rooms at hotels to accommodate the positive projected number of tourists, Mr Kongsak said.
“We have about 300 hotels open right now,” he said.
Tested on whether this will be enough, Mr Kongsak explained that the TAT had projected some 120,000 tourists to come in the first three months after July 1, giving an average demand of 40,000 visitors per month.
“That averages to about 1,000 people per day. Tourists on average stay for 5.5 nights, which gives a demand of 5,000-6,000 room nights. Most tourists stay two people to one room, so we need about 3,000 hotel rooms per day. We have 15,000 rooms, so it is more than enough for the coming tourists,” he said.
“For other businesses in the tourism industry, we still have more than enough. For example, we have 14,000 vans registered to serve tourists, but right now we have 9,000. I think that is enough. As for buses, they may not be used at this time, as we do not have tour groups,” he added.
Mr Kongsak cautioned operators from taking government-supported loans in order to open if the demand is not yet there to support their businesses.
“We cannot tell everyone to open their business. If the government supports those who are not ready by giving loans, if those businesses have only 5-10% of the number of customers they need, then they face further losses anyway,” he said.
“I told members of my association that if their hotels are still closed, do not rush to open. Ask yourselves, is it worth spending a lot of money to welcome only 5-10% guests? At this time, we cannot afford to imagine a beautiful image of tourism returning to how it was,” Mr Kongsak added.”
Thanusak Phungdet, President of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce, blankly agreed.
“I would love to advise hotel operators who are not yet ready to open, do not rush to open your hotels at this time. Monitor the situation in July first, then decide to make any movement,” he told The Phuket News.
“We do not expect a high number of tourists coming in the first couple weeks. I think we will have about 1,000 tourists. In this first month, I think the tourists may be those who work with the TAT,” Mr Thanusak said.
“I will be happy to see more bookings after the official announcement [of the entry conditions]. I do expect to see more tourists in August and September,” he added.
Mr Kongsak said that he believed the move to extend the minimum number of nights spent on Phuket from seven to 14 had not deterred many visitors wanting to come to Phuket. Pre-COVID, most visitors spent on average only 5.5 nights on the island anyway, he said.
Mr Thanusak admitted that it would deter some visitors, but took this as a blessing.
“Actually, it is a good thing, as we do not want a big number of tourists coming in the first period. Calm down and let’s not rush this. There will be no problems if we have a smaller number of tourists. I will be simply satisfied if the TAT can make announcements and promote that Phuket is open again,” he said.
However, Mr Thansuak also noted, “We do expect a bigger numbers of tourists in October or in the fourth quarter [of this year].”