The announcement of Phuket’s July reopening sans quarantine has reverberated positively across the travel industry, and everyone on the Thai resort island is now shifting into high gear to turn the “sandbox” proposal into a reality.
In order for Phuket to waive quarantine requirements for foreign visitors come 1 July, 70% of the island’s population have to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to achieve herd immunity ahead of the reopening date.
Phuket governor Narong Woonciew has announced plans for 50,000 locals, mostly tourism and frontline workers, to receive their first injection within seven days of the April vaccine delivery on the island.
Laguna Phuket will turn its 1,500-square-metre Angsana Convention and Exhibition Space into one of the nine vaccination centres on the island. The integrated resort complex will kickstart vaccination for its hotel staff and local medical frontline workers from 1 April.
“We thought this would be a good opportunity to showcase an example of a Phuket hospitality chain joining forces with the community and kicking off this project,” Ravi Chandran, managing director of Laguna Phuket told Travel Weekly Asia.
Industry players were “over the moon” when the Thai government finally approved the Phuket Tourism Sandbox model, said Chandran, as the travel business community has been engaged in months of intensive lobbying to reopen the island to foreign tourists without mandatory quarantines.
The plan will now give Phuket “a fighting chance” to compete with other “booming” destinations such as the Maldives and Dubai which have reopened to international visitors.
While the situation remains fluid, Chandran expects greater clarity and more details from the authorities in the coming days to make the 1 July reopening possible. For now, Laguna Phuket will focus on wooing travellers from regional hubs such as Singapore, Hong Kong and China, as well as major markets such as Russia, UK, Germany and the UAE, he added.
The integrated resort had teamed up with other tourism players on the island to launch the Laguna Phuket Revive 555 Festival, a 19-day line-up of lifestyle, sports and entertainment events aimed to showcase and build up confidence of Phuket as a safe destination.
A shot in the right direction
Phuket’s reopening plan is largely seen as an encouraging move to revive Thailand tourism, although industry players also urge for greater clarity in the vaccine rollout plan and reopening model.
"The latest news is a real step in the right direction but will not trigger a significant increase in firm bookings from long-haul tourist markets such as Europe and North America until all the details have been clarified and the commitment to open has been made firm," said Hamish Keith, CEO of Exo Travel. "We hope that will be the case and look forward to seeing more information."
David Linde, general manager of Destination Asia Thailand, opined that "it is "too early for the announcement of the Phuket initiative to radically change our clients’ travel plans short term," although that demand for Thailand remains "impressively strong and overshadows that of other Asian countries".
“The enduring appeal for Phuket specifically, and Andaman beach holidays in general continues to be reflected in the high volume of enquiries received from the UK particularly, but these are still predominantly for travel in late 2021, early 2022,” he added.
David Kevan of UK-based Chic Locations says outbound demand is also dependent if the UK government’s no-travel policy would be relaxed soon.
As July is traditionally the red flag season for Phuket, even if restrictions on travel are removed by the Thai and British governments he believes UK travel demand won’t significantly pick up until after October.
“I think the real goal will be greater reopening by October with several Thai regions happily participating so we can offer multi-destination holidays of scenic and cultural variety, which to me is the real joy of the country,” he remarked.
Source: Travel Weekly Asia