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Local businesses say they aren’t profiting from Phuket Sandbox

Neill Fronde

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FILE PHOTO: Old Phuket Town businesses are not seeing any benefit from the Sandbox.

While large resorts and big businesses in Phuket might be seeing revenue from the Phuket Sandbox, interviews with small local businesses suggest they are seeing little to no benefit from the reopening with its strong restrictions. Most business owners agree there won’t be any real income for most until there is a full reopening with fewer rules and more nightlife returned.

Reporters chatted with shopkeepers around Old Phuket Town and found a near-unanimous feeling that the two and a half months since the Phuket Sandbox launched has done little to help their ailing businesses. They all said the island is still very quiet, with the small stream of incoming tourists having no real effect on their businesses.

The government has been singing the successes of the Sandbox reopening, and, despite strict rules and cynicism, many happy travellers have entered Thailand through the Sandbox. Officials release figures of the revenue – over 1.6 billion baht in the first 2 months – but the numbers don’t match what local businesses are seeing, with most of the money not trickling down.

Of that 1.6 billion, 565 million went only to the SHA+ certified hotels, often the larger companies or chains that could afford the requirements and certification process. Another 229 million went to medical services, assumedly the multiple Covid-19 tests required to enter and stay in the Sandbox. And local small shops say that the money that is spent on goods and services is mostly going to the high-end big businesses on Phuket.

Many have said that even the tourists they do see around, are not spending money with local vendors. A business owner observed that the tourists they do see in Phuket Old Town are being hauled from their resorts as part of a packaged tour where they snap photos of the unique local architecture but don’t spend any free time wandering the shops and businesses and pumping any money into the local economy.

Nearly all local merchants agree that money won’t really start flowing until the alcohol starts flowing. Nightlife and entertainment venues lift up the local economy as holiday-makers want to go out at night, eat food, drink beer and cocktails, dance to music, relax and party. Local vendors know this and wait for the restrictions to lift and the atmosphere to return.

“Entrepreneurs can’t sell their products. Phuket Sandbox does not really improve tourism in the area. The atmosphere is quiet due to the government not allowing alcohol in restaurants, music, and other things tourists want on holiday. When these businesses were allowed to open, it helps all the other businesses and markets in the area with lively and exciting engagement. However, the government still won’t let them open.”

SOURCE: The Pattaya 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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