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1,324 arrive in Phuket Sandbox, government denies COE delays



PHOTO: More than 1300 travellers arrive in the Phuket Sandbox. (via Royal Thai Government)

The Sandbox is underway with relatively few hitches on the ground in Phuket, though the same might not be true of the approval process before international travellers depart to the southern Thai island. This weekend saw over 1,300 international travellers arrive to the Phuket Sandbox, and even with complex processes and restrictions, many are just happy to be there. Today welcomes the arrival of 6 international flights with a few hundred more travellers arriving or returning to Thailand.

The director of the Phuket Office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced that her staff will begin to collect daily details on the number of passengers arriving to and staying in Phuket and release it to the public each day.

Thursday’s Phuket Sandbox opening saw 326 international travellers, while Friday the numbers jumped up to 514 passengers. Yesterday the numbers held steady with 484 arrivals… a total of 1,324 travellers since July 1.

The first flights from Europe to arrive to the Sandbox on Thai Airways yesterday carryied a total of 122 passengers staying in Phuket, as well as 36 guests continuing on to Bangkok. Today, Thai Airways had London and Zurich flights land already, with 4 more international flights en route.

Airport staff and prominent figures and executives have been lining up to welcome the desperately needed tourists, with even PM Prayut taking selfies with deplaning guests on Thursday’s Singapore Airlines late afternoon flight. Thai Airways executives, TAT’s deputy governor, and Phuket Airport executives were greeting flights yesterday. Souvenirs cloth face masks were being handed out to people arriving.

While people are arriving to Phuket with smiles, the delayed and often frustrating process of registering and obtaining permission to travel in the Sandbox scheme has come under fire. Many talked of cancelling or delaying their trips due to being unsure or unable to get their Certificate of Entry in time for their scheduled flights.

But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a different perspective, saying that all valid applications were approved before flights without delay. The MFA spokesperson denied accusations of COE approvals coming too late. They say that all have been processed on time, though many were rejected for not being in full compliance and meeting all the requirements. People who do not qualify for the Sandbox Program or submit incomplete documentation will be denied.

The Thaiger continues to receive multiple emails and messages each day with potential travellers say they’re being held up as they await their COE documentation.

The gap between MFA claims and traveller complaints could be a difference in perspective of what constitutes “in time”. COEs couldn’t be issued until the Sandbox was legalised, which wasn’t done until June 29, just 2 days before the first Sandbox tourists were set to arrive. In those 2 days, 6,020 applications were received and now 3,034 have been approved (379 were rejected).

While technically approved in time, it could be argued that getting your COE just hours before take-off is cutting it too close for nervous travellers flying from the other side of the Earth to an inconsistent and shaky reopening plan.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post and The Phuket News


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Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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