Vaccinated holidaymakers can soon play in Phuket SandBox

Thailand plans to open its borders in a phased manner from July 1. Can other Asian destinations follow their road map?
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Phuket SandBox leads the way towards the revival of tourism in Thailand. Image: Courtesy Toursim Authority of Thailand.

Phuket SandBox is the collaboration of Thai governmental organisations and private sectors to reopen Phuket to vaccinated foreign tourists from countries with low or medium risk of Covid-19 transmission without quarantine requirements. They may later travel to other destinations if they fulfill the 14-day stay requirement. These tourists will be required to show proof of them testing negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours before travelling, undergo another test upon arriving in Phuket and have repeat tests during their stay.

The Phuket SandBox project is a public-private sector co-operation between the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Ministry of Public Health (Department of Disease Control, Department of Health, and Department of Health Service Support), as well as other tourism-related government and private-sector organisations.

While reopening tourism might be the best thing for the economy, the government is clearly committed to caution and making sure there is no fresh outbreak as a result of this decision. Which is why a sub-committee of Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has reportedly requested TAT to revise the Covid-19 control plan proposed for its Phuket Tourism Sandbox programme, incorporating suggestions for enhanced effectiveness made by the country’s Department of Disease Control. The CCSA’s main committee will be reviewing the decision at a meeting tomorrow.

Cholada Siddhivarn, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Mumbai office, says the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has certified the Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration (SHA) certification programme to be at par with the WTTC SafeTravels global health and hygiene standardised protocols. “To reopen Phuket, we have introduced the ‘SHA Plus’ Certificate, which means that at least 70 per cent of staff at the venues and businesses have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” she explains. This level of vaccinations in Phuket is an impressive achievement, considering vaccination numbers in other parts of the country are still quite low.    

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Cholada Siddhivarn, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Mumbai office, believes the Phuket SandBox’s success will pave the way for other Thai destinations to open up as well. Image: Courtesy Tourism Authority Thailand.

When asked how the Thailand government has got Phuket tourist-ready in such a short time span, Siddhivarn says, “We have readied the road map to open Thailand in phases months ago. The authorities have been working very hard to deal with Covid-19 cases in Thailand since we had the third wave in April.” They are also working hard to communicate to educate and reassure the local population about vaccination and protocols once the impending tourist influx ensues.

COVID-19 Fact Sheet courtesy Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Mahesh Shirodkar, Managing Director of Tamarind Global, one of India’s top destination wedding and events companies, ascribes the quick turnaround to Thailand’s decision to close its borders early. “They did this with draconian discipline, ensuring that they would be ready for a plug-and-play kick off for tourism. Their economy depends largely on tourism income. Despite this, they took a long-term view, unlike some other countries,” he observes.

Nond Kalinta, Chief Commercial Officer, Thai Airways International Public Company Limited (THAI), recently said that given the resurge in demand, THAI is operating return flights for passengers to 16 destinations, including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Lahore, Dhaka, Manila, London, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich and Sydney.

India, though, is still not on the radar. Siddhivarn is optimistic, given the improving situation and vaccination efforts. “I am certain that Phuket and other destinations in Thailand will have a chance to welcome our Indian friends soon,” she assures. Shirodkar believes that overseas travel from India to Thailand will pick up almost as soon as flights and borders open. “Thailand has always positioned itself as a short-haul, value-based destination across tourism, MICE and spa interests. The surge will be a sharp V,” he predicts.

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Phuket hopes to welcome tourists very soon. Image: Courtesy Toursim Authority of Thailand.

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