23 May 2024

After the lockdown, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw Thailand’s world famous and normally bustling resort island of Phuket transformed into a ghost town, with almost all hotels closed and shops shuttered and no foreign tourists, signs of life began to return today with a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel as its economy slowly picks up, thanks to the arrival of local tourists.

About 60 domestic flights are currently arriving in Phuket every day, bringing a daily average of 7,000 Thai visitors, and the numbers increase during long weekends. Although most of the visitors lack the purchasing power of their foreign counterparts, their arrival has provided a glimmer of hope to entrepreneurs, from hoteliers to small retailers. They have, however, reduced the price of hotel accommodation, food and transport.

Mrs. Kulthida Jaengjaiyen, a small retailer in the old town of Phuket, told Thai PBS that she has had to make several adjustments to adapt to Thai customers. Asked whether she prefers foreign tourists, she said she likes all customers but there must be measures to ensure that foreign visitors are screened.

For the town to experience any substantial recovery, post-COVID-19, it needs foreign tourists. The provincial governor, health officials and the private sector have developed a set of measures to open up the island, step by step, and to welcome the return of foreign tourists.

Dr. Thanit Sermkaew, a provincial councilor, admitted that Phuket was caught by surprise when COVID struck, with health officials not knowing where the infections were, rendering it impossible to control the spread, but added “We are now well-prepared. We know who comes in, how to trace them and whom they are in contact with. We can quickly control the spread if there is an infection,” he said.

Phuket is expected to welcome the first group of foreign visitors in October, pending approval from the CCSA. They will include diplomats and their families, foreign students and residents of Phuket who have been there at least three months. They will be subjected to 14-days of quarantine, be required to have fit to fly certificates, issued within 72 hours prior to departure for Thailand and be screened for the virus at their point of departure and upon arrival in Phuket. They must also have health insurance coverage of at least US$ 100,000 per person.

The second phase is being called “safety tourism”, with visitors from countries classified as “green” or “white” being allowed into Phuket, but they will still be required to go through 14-days of quarantine, and will be able to leave their hotel rooms at specific times.

In the third stage, those in quarantine can leave their hotels on the 5th day of their quarantine period, but their itinerary must be reported in advance, so that the people along the route can be informed.  However, they will have to return to their hotels to complete their 14-day isolation.

The fourth stage is when an effective vaccine becomes available. Then, foreign tourists can enter Phuket without being quarantined, after going through screening upon arrival. About 60 hotels in Phuket have applied to join the quarantine program, but only six of them have passed the screening process, while the rest have to make adjustments before approval.