21 May 2024

The governor of Phuket, Narong Woonsiew, told Thai PBS World, when we asked whether he feels the pressure of being the first province in Thailand to reopen to fully vaccinated foreign arrivals without quarantine in July, under the tourism campaign called “Sandbox”.

Narong said Phuket is determined to make it happen and that, if Phuket does not take this path, the future of the island and the livelihoods of people here, which very much depend on the tourism industry, would be crippled.

Eighty percent of Phuket’s revenue came from Tourism, worth over 442 billion baht. When the world was on lockdown, Phuket saw only 10 percent occupation of its 100,000 hotel rooms. Phuket earned just over 108 billion baht in 2020, 91 percent of which was in the first three months of the year, before lockdown.

The governor said one of the indications that Phuket’s people are determined to make this project work is that many people are very enthusiastic about getting vaccinated, and people have been very cooperative with the disease control measures, which has resulted in very low numbers of new locally transmitted cases, or even zero new cases on some days.

Under the “sandbox” scheme, visitors have to stay at the same hotel for 14 days, but they are allowed to travel anywhere on the island with a tracing system.

Narong said there will be a system to make sure all travelers stay in Phuket until they complete the initial fortnight. All the entry points to the island will be tightened. The checkpoint system on land will be improved to the same standard as at the airport, with health officials and the screening process for people and other objects.

“Sandbox” is a big project for Phuket, but they still hope to see 500,000 domestic tourists in the next 3 months, which accounts for 80 percent of the visitors they are hoping to welcome. 

The governor assured Thai PBS World that the same conditions apply to Thais and foreign residents in Thailand. Fully vaccinated visitors are always welcome, otherwise, the visitor has to take the rapid antigen test before they come onto the island.

Currently, the information Narong has in hand is from the tourism authority and the business sector. On July 1st, there will be flights arriving from Doha, Israel, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Fewer than 10 days from reopening, however, the regulations for entering Phuket remain unofficial. They need to be published in the Royal Gazette first. Narong said then, Phuket expects to see a rise in bookings and confirmations, possibly in the middle of July. Travellers will start planning their trips once they have a clearer picture.