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Phuket in a Covid Crisis – VIDEO

Tanutam Thawan

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Phuket is facing an existential crisis. Because of its semi-isolation as an island, it doesn’t get much “passing traffic” and is too far away from Bangkok to attract much ‘weekend’ business. Whilst the borders stay closed the island’s businesses face ruin.

A year ago, the streets of this tourist island were brimming with a diverse international tourism mix. In fact the island had become one of the most popular tropical island destinations in the world, catering for both the high end, the back-packers and just about everything in between.

But nearly 9 months into a global coronavirus pandemic, things are now very, very different.

Since Thailand’s borders were closed, Thailand’s tourist magnets, including the southern island of Phuket, have faced the prospect of at least a short to medium term future without any means to run their businesses. Each of these shops is an individual, maybe a family, friends, employees, a landlord… all suddenly cut off from an income. Their sin, choosing to run a business, and pay hefty rents for the pleasure, in areas where tourists wanted to visit.

In the case of Phuket, which previously attracted 8-10 million international visitors a year, its cash lifeline, probably more than 90% of its economy, has been cut off.

The provincial government has done little, can do little, to help. The Thai government has had a round of cash handouts for people losing their job, but, in many cases, these have either been negligible and in some cases, never turned up. Either way, none of the government’s stimulus has been able to do much to help the island find a new pathway to re-open all these businesses.

As for Phuket’s 2,000 or so hotels and guesthouses, most of them still have their doors locked, some even completely vacated without even maintenance staff. The prospect of their survival, on domestic tourism alone, is impossible – Phuket, just too far away from the country’s population centres to get any passing or weekend traffic.

The island’s east coast, where many of the Thai’s live and the established families have their businesses, have burst back to life following the lifting of lockdown provisions in May and June this year. But a drive through the west coast towns looks more like the set of a dystopian Hollywood set, bereft of tourists, locals, and empty streets lined with row after row of shuttered shops.

This isn’t an exaggeration, this is how it is, and has been for months with little hope of the situation improving any time soon.

The businesspeople here followed the government’s demands to close up shop and lockdown for 6 week in March and April. A 6 week interruption to their businesses would be bad enough. But, here we are, 6 months later and the situation remains bleak.

In fact most of the owners and employees of these businesses have stripped their shops, left the island and headed back to their homes.

For the locals, who call Phuket home, they’ve had to find a new life, a new job and make a new start, often helped along by the kindness of strangers and the island’s expat community.

Thailand’s travel and hospitality industries, and they ARE industries, especially on an island like Phuket, are now in a perpetual limbo. Whilst everyone is happy to see a development like the Special Tourist Visa, it is not even a remotely sustainable model for Thailand’s tourism industry beyond the immediate short-term and will do little get these shops open again.

 

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Tragic, but out you go at midnight and fish! Forage in the jungle, and grow vegetables in window boxes. pawn your smart phones, sell your motor bikes – walk. Good exercise.
    You strangled the golden geese when they were there. Then you would not let the golden geese leave!
    Finally when they could, there were traffic jams trying to get out.
    Now the government will not let the golden geese back in and the golden geese have affectively been killed.
    You maintained a rip off system in Phuket that made it the most expensive place for foreigners to have a vacation. You were all in on it, the police, politicians, and anyone on the public payroll.
    Fish. Farm or starve. You had it coming . . .

    • Avatar

      John

      Monday, October 5, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      You are exactly right, don’t think they will get much sympathy from the foreign community.

  2. Avatar

    Issan John

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    … and so the option is …..?

  3. Avatar

    chris

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Thai government needs come up with better and more realstic options than this useless STV

  4. Avatar

    John

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    It is not only the poor businesses that have been gouging tourists for years. The tourists have been affected by this too. Seems that Khama has a funny way of balancing the scales.

  5. Avatar

    Somchai

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    120 Chinese brothers already on the way for support Phuket
    Don’t worry they have more money then million zerro bath western tourists.
    Thailand will much more happy with Chinese tourist then with western trash
    Look at Sihanoukville now is nice and big city when Chinese come

    • Avatar

      Keith

      Tuesday, October 6, 2020 at 6:13 am

      Just hope they don’t bring covid 19, they caused this pandemic, these so called tourists are just Chinese businessmen looking to buy businesses at knockdown prices so when the low end Chinese return all the money hey spend goes back to China, Thais will benefit very little from this

    • Avatar

      Nipral

      Tuesday, October 6, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      utterly moronic comment from an ill-educated idiot. Probably member of this brainless government !

  6. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    The first two lines in my post!!!!!

    • Avatar

      Avenger

      Monday, October 5, 2020 at 7:08 pm

      Somchai you’re a peasant imbecile.
      Don’t forget whose disgusting hygiene caused this pandemic.

    • Avatar

      Paul

      Friday, October 9, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Somchai…. Maybe you have caught another form of Covid from your “Chinese brothers” we don’t know about. You are clearly delusional and have no concept of the effect the Chinese are having on South East Asia. In particular the Thai locals benefit very little from these Chinese as they support firstly Chinese businesses…. Even your naivety is no excuse for what you suggest about Western guests.

  7. Avatar

    Terrence

    Monday, October 5, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    It does look grim on the west coast. In fairness, the high season was looking pretty bleak back in December. The trend over the past few years has been towards Russian and Chinese tourism and that’s not favorable to small independent businesses geared around bars, restaurants, adventure or cultural activity. Overall the whole place is seedy, corrupt and entitled, and Karma is a bitch.

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