11 July 2024

Foreign tourists who carry a COVID-19 vaccine passport will be able to enjoy Phuket’s blue seas and white sands without having to undergo quarantine, provided the Thai government approves the Phuket Tourism Sandbox initiative.

The “sandbox” trial scheme will top the agenda today at the country’s first Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) meeting. To be chaired by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, the meeting will bring together key players from both government and the private sector.

What is the Tourism Sandbox?

This latest proposal to revive tourism on the world-famous island is designed to lure back foreigners with an offer to waive quarantine for those fully inoculated against COVID-19 from July 1 onward.

The initiative also promises to guarantee the safety of locals, since one of its key conditions is that 95 per cent of Phuket residents are completely vaccinated first to achieve herd immunity.

How feasible is this initiative?

When COVID-19 hit Thailand last year, authorities proposed the Phuket Model to attract tourists by allowing them to spend time in certain areas of the island without quarantine. However, locals opposed the plan at the time over fears it would increase their risk of getting infected.

A few months on, with the island’s tourism-dependent economy sinking even further from the lack of foreign arrivals, the Phuket Tourism Sandbox has attracted little if any protest from locals.

Residents are also reassured by the plan to get most of them vaccinated before the influx of foreign tourists.

(photo by Kiratikorn Naksompop Blauw)

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul believes the government will agree to provide 900,000 vaccine doses for Phuket. This figure is just short of the 933,174 doses that would be needed to inoculate 95 per cent of the island’s 493,197-strong population.

While the expected procurement of 900,000 jabs offers hope that the Phuket Tourism Sandbox will launch smoothly, doubts still hang over the scheme.

Anutin, after all, has not given a timeframe for delivery of the vaccine. If he waits until the AstraZeneca vaccine can be produced locally, it will probably be too late.

Since COVID-19 vaccination requires that the first and second dose be injected several weeks apart, residents and migrant workers on Phuket should start getting shots from the middle of April. Locally made AstraZeneca vaccine, however, is only expected to start rolling off the production line from June onwards.

Billions of baht at stake

If the Tourism Sandbox can be launched on July 1, Phuket will likely generate Bt84 billion for Thailand this year. But if instead the island fails to open until October, as per the recently discussed Phuket First October strategy, the forecast revenue from the province will drop to around Bt54 billion.

The Phuket First October scheme would also remove the quarantine requirement.

At present, Thailand requires foreign arrivals to complete a 14-day quarantine. But from April 1onward, mandatory quarantine will drop to 10 days for all travellers except those from high-risk countries. It will be cut to just seven days if arrivals have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Samui takes different approach

Samui, another famous island destination in Thailand, has taken a different approach.

Samui island (photo by Dmitry Pankov)

From July, quarantine for all visitors will be cut to a few days if they test negative for COVID-19 on their second or third day on the island. Then they will be free to explore designated zones on the island. If they also test negative on the seventh day, they may travel to nearby islands like Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao.

By Thai PBS World’s Business Desk