Phuket is open. Sort of. And the hotels on the island are officially allowed to re-open but few are flinging open their doors anytime soon to welcome the hordes of tourists lining up to book a room. The holiday island is in a Catch 22 situation with the hotels waiting for the guests to return and potential visitors waiting until there are signs of life.
Although the authorities said hotels could re-open on June 1 they forgot to give hotels any advance notice so management could put all the many wheels in motion necessary to open a modern hotel.
A hotelier told TTR Weekly the first he knew of the lifting of restrictions was when he received a message on his phone saying the province had announced the island’s hotels could reopen.
But opening up the hotels is just one small step to re-booting Phuket’s battered tourist industry.
What are the guidelines for quarantine, if any? Do guests require any specific documentation? Insurance? Which hotels are actually open? Who is co-ordinating the information? Do travellers get any information about these things when they make their bookings? How do travellers know the hotel’s open anyway?
And if travellers come to Phuket, then return to their province. will they be required to do 14 day quarantine, as required by some provinces?
For now, the only way you can get to Phuket is across the Sarisan Bridge, the only land link to the Thai mainland. The island’s marine piers are also open again but there are scant services running at the moment.
And the airport?
There has been no official announcement about the re-opening of Phuket International Airport, even for domestic services. The island’s provincial authorities applied to the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand last week to re-open the airport but there has been no official response. Many other airports have now re-opened around Thailand to limited domestic flights but the success of the domestic flights reboot has been sketchy with schedules constantly changing as airlines battle with the ‘new normal’. Passengers are also describing the whole process as a “hassle’ with longer times needed to get into the airport, through check-in, requirements for social distancing and the completely impersonal flight experience with flight crews dressed up like ICU staff.
But there are signs of life. Maybe Thai AirAsia, Nok Air and Vietjet Air know something the rest of us don’t. All three have bookings available, at least between Phuket and Bangkok, from June 16. Fares range from 1,100 up to 1,700 in the week after June 16, one way. But if you’re rushing to buy a ticket, on or off the island, be aware that there is no official green light for a resumption of flights, as of today.
International flights into Thailand are banned up to at least the end of June with, again, no official mention of what will happen after that. Residents of which countries will be allowed to fly in? What restrictions and conditions will be imposed? And which airlines are going to be flying anyway?
The CAAT has extended the ban on international flights twice already.
The Thai government said last month that they were going to use June as the month to clear a lot of the chartered Thai citizen repatriation flights. That the only new cases of Covid-19 in Thailand over the past 2 weeks have been returning citizens, all from Middle East countries, will be a niggling concern for authorities as they figure out how, or when, to re-open international borders.
Back to Phuket…
Even if the hotels are re-opening, where will these magic travellers be coming from. The biggest feeder market, weekenders from Bangkok, will be going to Pattaya or Hua Hin. They’re unlikely to take a 12 hour drive to Phuket, no matter how cheap the hotels, or pretty the beaches. So as long as Thailand is closed to international tourists, and the airport’s sealed off from international travel, the prospects for Phuket’s hotel industry remain extremely limited.
Even if some domestic tourism provides a kick-start to the island’s tourist economy, what will they do when they’re here? All the hot spots are ‘cold’, there are few tours that are considering re-starting for now and it’s wet season anyway.
Speaking to the GM of three hotels on the island, he told The Thaiger that they’re not re-opening until October, at the earliest.
“There are plenty of difficult months ahead with our old staff mostly laid off. When we re-open, many of the staff will be new. The whole things a mess.”
Any bets on June 16 for a re-opening of Phuket Airport to domestic flights?
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