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Small businesses fear Phuket Sandbox will leave them behind



FILE PHOTO: Many once thriving tourist areas sit vacant as small businesses can't afford to reopen.

With the Phuket Sandbox reopening just hours away, many businesses in the tourist-reliant province hopefully await the return of foreign travellers and the restart of the economy. But while businesses that had the financial means to weather the long-term closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic prepare excitedly, many smaller businesses that lacked the funding to revive themselves are not nearly as enthused.

While government agencies and flight statistics squabble over how many travellers will be returning over how long a period, smaller businesses don’t expect to see much benefit from the slow creeping return of tourism. They feel they’ve been left behind in the reopening, and while the government may not be looking at them, returning visitors will definitely see them.

The Phuket Tourism Entrepreneur Development Association paints a picture of returning travellers arriving in Phuket to find shops closed, businesses shuttered, buildings empty and for rent or sale, even major chain convenience stores abandoned and gutted.

Many of the businesses that haven’t packed it up and called it quits completely may not be reopening along with the borders. After over a year of partial or complete closure, reopening isn’t always cheap. Businesses need to be cleaned and repaired, repainted and remodelled, and bills paid for services like internet and electricity to be restarted. And whether or not tourists arrive in large numbers, staff at reopened businesses will need to be paid.

Without urgently needed soft loans available immediately for small businesses in the tourism sector, much of what draws tourists to Phuket and other popular travel destinations will likely not be waiting for them when they arrive.

One business owner lamented that financial and staffing pitfalls may lead to worsening conditions for small businesses in the tourism sector. Building and land owners may reckon the borders have reopened so they end any rent discounts when, in reality, the number of immediately returning tourists is not nearly enough to support businesses. As a result, more hotels and businesses in the tourism sector could close.

Additionally, staffing shortages may be an issue as SHA Plus certification requires 100% vaccination and tourism workers that went to their hometowns during the pandemic may not be able to return to work in Phuket having been unable to get vaccines locally. These issues combined with the bleak scene that travellers will return to and the ever-changing complicated hoops they must jump through to re-enter Thailand may persuade tourists considering a Thailand trip to cancel or postpone their travels until things are more stable.

Since last year, over 2 million people who work in tourism have lost their jobs, and a recent report said that more than half a million jobs were lost since the third wave of Covid-19 began just three months ago. The Central Bank Governor predicted a 5 year time frame for tourism revenue to normalize. Thailand lost about 83% of international tourists last year due to Covid-19 and suffered a 1.6 trillion baht loss of revenue that many fear will not start recovering quickly enough with the Phuket reopening.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post


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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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