Phuket reopens but botched preparation limits travellers

PHOTO: Preparation to enter Phuket has been scattered, marring the reopening. (via YouTube)

So Phuket is finally reopened with today marking the start of the Phuket Sandbox and the welcoming of international travellers without quarantine. But the days leading up to the launch saw a precipitous drop in expected arrivals as constant changes, lack of preparation, delays in implementation, and overall chaos marred the Phuket rollout and damaged tourist confidence in the scheme.

Many small businesses have complained that the Phuket Sandbox didn’t provide any support for reopening the hundreds of small businesses that closed due to Covid-19 and don’t have the finances to relaunch now. Many in the tourism industry have speculated that small businesses will be left behind as only chains and large corporations in Phuket have the capital needed in preparation to welcome back the incoming travellers. But the problem still remains that tourists are arriving back to a town with the majority of businesses shuttered.

A plan of such large-scale and critical importance would expect to have preparation ironed out long before the launch, but the Phuket reopening wasn’t officially certified until after 9 pm just two days before the launch. Without the official certification in The Royal Gazette, embassies were not able to issue the mandatory Certificate of Entry until yesterday, leaving people who had planned to arrive today unsure whether they would even board their flights.

Many who were scheduled to fly today or in the first few days of the Sandbox had to give up and postpone their trip if not cancel their plans to come to Thailand completely. People posted stories online about receiving the COE approval just hours before their scheduled flight to Phuket and racing straight to the airport with no time for preparation. But many are not willing to take that risk.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Foreign Ministry attempted to reassure travellers that they will be able to get their COE and won’t end up and a local quarantine facility as the ministry stepped up the approval process speed. But it was too little too late for many who are travelling today and had no guarantee of getting approved.

The TAT claimed that advance preparation was made as the registration process was opened a full 4 days before the Phuket reopening, but as last minute as that is, the fact that certificates couldn’t be approved until the Royal Gazette published the Phuket Sandbox reopening meant that most people’s travel today would only be confirmed within the last few hours before their flights.

Authorities vowed that after opening, the COE process should take 3 to 5 days and future arrivals won’t be as chaotic and panicked. Five Airlines will arrive today with about 300 passengers who will be greeted by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha at the airport. Information from Thai Airways who have five flights scheduled for tomorrow and Friday indicate at least 365 more arrivals over the next two days.

Hotels are seeing an uptick in occupancy, more than double the room nights booked since Monday. Nearly 25,000 room nights have been booked for the first half of July, up from the figure of 11,000 reported Monday. 25,000 room nights when 14-day stays are required represents just under 1,800 travellers. This is not nearly enough to revive the ailing tourism economy though, and a healthy supply of vaccinated domestic tourists are needed to fill rooms and businesses to give Phuket a chance to thrive in the new reopening.

For more information on how to get into Thailand during the pandemic, CLICK HERE.

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Neill Fronde

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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