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Worries remain over government’s “Phuket Model”

Jack Burton

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Worries remain over government’s “Phuket Model” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: CNN
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As the government has gradually eased Covid-19 restrictions, the tourism sector has high hopes for a good recovery. The resort island province of Phuket is eager to reopen to foreign tourists to help stimulate the local economy, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. The “Phuket Model” has been proposed to reopen the province in October in a “new normal” manner. But the government’s efforts are creating doubt about the health system’s readiness to curb a potential second wave of the virus.

It’s expected that foreign tourists will be allowed to visit Thailand from October 1 onward, and about 100,000 of them will likely come. If given the green light by the government, the Phuket Model will be trialled in 6 regions across the country.

Tourism and Transport Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says Phuket will be a pilot area where foreign tourists are allowed to travel. Under the plan, foreign tourists will be allowed to stay in a designated area of a 1 kilometre radius on the island for 14 days before they can travel to other areas in the province, provided they test negative for the virus. If they want to visit other provinces, they’ll have to stay in quarantine there for another week.

The president of the Phuket Tourist Association says the province’s private sector has proposed its own “4Ts”, instead of the Phuket Model, to welcome back foreign tourists, but that reopening Phuket doesn’t mean allowing general foreign tourists in.

The “4Ts” are Target (setting clear targets for tourist numbers), Testing (screening and testing for the virus at the airport), Tracing (using an application to keep track of every tourist in real time) and Treatment (sufficient health workers and medicine to treat Covid-19 patients).

“We will allow only foreigners who used to stay in Phuket and now want to come back and those keen on staying for a long time. We intend to accept only a small group, not everyone.”

He voiced disagreement with the government’s model, saying Phuket must protect and serve local people first. At the peak of the outbreak, Phuket had the highest rate of infection of all of Thailand’s 76 provinces.

“The private sector wants to accept only a small number of foreign tourists who must be screened and tested until it is certain that they are completely free from the virus.”

The mayor of Phuket’s Patong municipality, the red light district and the island’s hardest hit area, said:

“We must admit that we need to allow foreign tourists in but most of the people here are not very confident in the government’s measures. We are not sure if they will be strictly implemented but we must be open. People are having a tough time. Businesses have shut doors. We do not want a lot of money, we just want to get by and be healthy.”

The president of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce agreed, saying Phuket is ready to welcome back tourists but its idea of reopening is different to that of the tourism and sports minister.

“We want foreigners to travel to Thailand to help generate income, but we disagree with the idea of allowing them to travel in Phuket or Thailand for just 5-7 days.”

He suggested the first group of foreigners allowed in during October should be those who plan to stay on the island for a long time, including foreign students, medical tourists and those with families or businesses in the country.

Phiphat revealed more information about the planned reopening of foreign tourism yesterday. The cabinet on Tuesday approved a new tourism agency, “Thailand Longstay”, which will market and organise all trips for tourists entering Thailand from approved countries which will be subject to demanding criteria. The new entity is to be 30% owned by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. He said the first group of approximately 200 tourists from Australia and New Zealand will arrive in mid-September. Visitors will be required to have a Covid 19 test, a medical certificate and US$100,000 in health insurance, specifically covering Covid-19 treatment.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | Thai Enquirer

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Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Phuket. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    J. Jones

    August 30, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    So…we are participating in this “testing” starting next month? Just arrived after they opened Phuket for domestic travel, but will leave before the international flights arrive. Sounds like a good idea, but I think I may skip it. Sincerely hope they can contain the problem, If they do, it would be wonderful.

    • Avatar

      Max

      August 31, 2020 at 9:49 am

      It’s only charter flights if it will even happen. Imo,no one with half a brain will pay for a 14 days quarantine BEFORE the real vacation starts. Especially when 14 days is the average time for a charter tourist in Phuket.

  2. Avatar

    Andrew Mac

    August 30, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    Hey Bulldog, so we (US) have been left on the back burner? When do we get to visit?

  3. Avatar

    Eddie

    August 30, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    15. Aanatara Mai Khao Phuket THB 199,000
    16. Trisara Hotel Phuket THB 270,000

    Who will rich or dense enough to stay in these only two ASQ for 14 days?

  4. Avatar

    Perceville Smithers

    August 30, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    “We will allow only foreigners who used to stay in Phuket and now want to come back and those keen on staying for a long time. We intend to accept only a small group, not everyone.”

    Will these select tourists be required to wear t-shirts that read, Big Money?

    • Avatar

      Max

      August 31, 2020 at 9:53 am

      The group you mentioned is not the group in the article. It’s only charter tourists, not long stayers with money as was suggested by the TAT.

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Weather

Strong wind and waves this morning closes Phuket’s beaches, one swimmer rescued

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Strong wind and waves this morning closes Phuket’s beaches, one swimmer rescued | The Thaiger

Phuket’s Rawai Mayor, Aroon Solos, ordered all beaches in the area to close after a foreigner was rescued this morning after being unable to make it back to shore. The foreigner was swimming off Ao Sane beach, just north of the popular Nai Harn Beach, when lifeguards were sent out to help bring him back to shore. The recent weather has been partly attributed to Tropical Storm Noul as other beaches areas around Patong have been closed since Friday.

Mayor Aroon ordered both the Nai Harn and Ya Nui beaches closed until further notice.

Noul crossed over the Vietnamese coastline in the early hours of Friday morning and tracked westwards into Laos, then Thailand’s north east, dragging in moisture from the Indian Ocean and intensifying the south-west monsoon.

The Chief of the Cherngtalay Tambon says that, once weather is more stable, the island’s beaches will reopen.

“All beaches in our area, Surin Beach, Bang Tao beach and other beaches, are closed today. We will reopen them when the weather improves.” Strong winds have contributed to falling trees and power outages across the island with one tree falling on the island’s main traffic artery, Thepkasattri Road, blocking traffic.

Officials are also warning road travellers to drive carefully after a car reportedly flipped over yesterday during wet conditions. The Thai Meteorological Department has also re-issued a weather warning today, saying that Noul has been now downgraded from a Category 3 tropical storm to a tropical depression.

The remnants of Noul currently sit over the Kancanaburi province after surging through Thailand’s north eastern and central provinces earlier today.

“Strong wind waves are likely in the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. In the upper portion of both seas, the waves will be likely 2-4 meters high and more than 4 meters high in thundershowers. In the lower portion, the waves will be likely about 2 meters and in thundershower areas more than 3 meters high. All ships keep ashore through 20 September.”

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Phuket hotels fighting for their lives as domestic tourism fails to support the island

Bill Barnett

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Phuket hotels fighting for their lives as domestic tourism fails to support the island | The Thaiger

In the wake of last weekend’s ministerial talkfest and discussions with local industry players on the island, Bill Barnett paints a bleak picture of a tourist island in freefall. All the shops, restaurants and hotels can’t remain empty, or merely keep their doors open with a handful of domestic customers, forever.

Phuket’s hotel industry is reaching breaking point and drastic economic support from the government will be needed for it to survive the high season. The warning from a slew of industry leaders who fear the island has reached a crucial turning point.

In the wake of the controversial “Phuket Model” international travel reopening scheme, reality is biting back as hotels in Thailand’s leading resort island are unable to sustain operating viability based on domestic tourism.

According to the Airports of Thailand, passenger arrivals at the aviation gateway have plunged 65% year-on-year from January through July of this year.

Phuket hotels fighting for their lives as domestic tourism fails to support the island | News by The Thaiger

What is clear is that the 86,000 rooms in Phuket’s registered accommodation establishments cannot realistically break-even or even be cash-flow positive with only domestic demand. This realistically could set the scene for 50,000 job losses in the hotel sector this year if there’s no support forth coming or international visitors are not allowed in.

One of the green shoots is the Alternative Local State Quarantine program, with over 60 island properties applying. While this program is meant to emulate the ASQ program in Bangkok, given there are no direct international flights to Phuket, the government needs wider support of a return of international travellers at a local level and implement inter-ministerial coordination before it could materialise. But this may take months.

Anthony Lark, President of the Phuket Hotels Association that represents 78 hotels in Phuket said: “The math simply doesn’t work with single-digit occupancies being reported. No amount of induced local demand can prevent the dramatic continued loss of jobs and rapidly eroding financial crisis for owners and operators. We strongly advocate a safe, pragmatic, and strategic reopening for foreign travellers.”

Phuket hotels fighting for their lives as domestic tourism fails to support the island | News by The Thaiger

With tourism being the lead economic indicator in Phuket data newly released by hospitality consulting group C9 Hotelworks reveals the Covid-19 impact on the hotel development pipeline with 69% of hotels now being delayed or put on hold. Looking at the economic consequences, at the end of 2019, there were 1,758 licensed accommodation establishments on the island and today incoming projects stand at 58 hotels, representing a 19% rise in supply with 16,476 additional rooms planned.

C9 Hotelworks Managing Director Bill Barnett said: “Thailand’s failure to relaunch overseas tourism creates a dangerously perilous scenario for Phuket’s hospitality industry. The domino financial impact is not only on hotels and the expanded tourism sector, but it suffocates the development pipeline. This will negatively trigger the erosion of jobs in construction, real estate, retail and ultimately be manifested in consumer credit defaults. The situation is bad, and likely to get worse, as operating hotels remaining incur losses day in and day out.”

In terms of updating the Phuket hotel situation on the ground, there continues to be much controversy and a lack of national and local consensus over the proposed “Safe and Sealed’ sandbox long-stay program. While a stark warning was issued last week by the Bank of Thailand over the potential disruption to the heavily tourism-dependent country, the fate of Phuket’s coming high season remains very challenged.

Citing a way forward C9’s Bill Barnett commented: “Any reopening plan must not only be well planned but has to win the hearts and minds of the Thai people to see any chance of success. While the island may hold the keys to the Kingdom in leading a restoration of tourism, but the more critical issue is how hotels can fight for their lives in the current state of limbo.”

Phuket hotels fighting for their lives as domestic tourism fails to support the island | News by The Thaiger

Speaking about Phuket’s current situation Anthony Lark added: “Firstly, greater proactive dialogue between the public and private sector has to be undertaken. We can’t simply say we are now in unknown territory forever. Steps must be taken and a single voice formed.

“Secondly, the Bank of Thailand has to look at interim measures to assist hotels with short-term operating bridge loans to weather the storm and retain jobs. Tourism is a human endeavor and without protecting and nurturing our Thai workforce there will be no recovery.”

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Tourism

Thai tourism cavalcade rolls into town to get feedback on Phuket Model

The Thaiger

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Thai tourism cavalcade rolls into town to get feedback on Phuket Model | The Thaiger
PHOTOS: Newshawk Phuket

The who’s who of Thai tourism toured Phuket over Saturday and Sunday speaking to local tourism players and local officials about the situation on the island and gather some feedback about the so-called “Phuket model” which had been proposed to open the island to limited tourism from October 1. Ironically, the delegation rolled into town when the island was probably at its busiest since the island’s international airport was closed back in April, due to the 4 day long weekend.

To start off, both the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Tourism and sports minister made it clear that the October 1 starting date for any final model to re-introduce tourism to Phuket, was unlikely to be met.

The weekend’s entourage of ministers, deputy ministers, MPs and officials toured the island, speaking to tourism operators, leaders and residents. Just 2 days ago, the TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said that the launch of the “Phuket model” was likely to be pushed back.

Addressing perceived fears about opening Phuket to tourism, Deputy PM and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul yesterday called for locals to be “confident as the province aims to navigate and overcome the challenges posed by the global Covid-19 pandemic”.

As the cavalcade toured different communities in Phuket, they explained that they’d been dispatched on direct instructions from the Thai PM to gather information and speak to players in the tourism industry to assess how to move forward on re-opening the island. They spent most time in the Phuket Town and Patong communities, the 2 main business hubs in Phuket.

They noted that Phuket Town was still quite bustling with local traffic and business coping quite well, but that Patong was a shadow of its former self with only a tiny proportion of businesses open and the streets empty.

A formal meeting was held at the Baan Kamnan Restaurant on Patong’s Thaweewong Rd which was also attended by the Patong Mayor Chalermluck Kebsup, President of the Patong Entertainment Business Association, Weerawit Kreuasombat and Patong business entrepreneur Prab Keesin. There was around 100 people attending the meeting.

Tourism Minister Phiphat said after the meeting… “we will draft a summary of this information and report it to the Prime Minister”.

“I believe that the Phuket Model is likely to not start on October 1, mainly due to fear among Phuket people.”

He also commented that there would likely be a change to the name “Phuket model” and acknowledged that about 90% of the income generated in the province is from tourism.

Although the delegation were able to witness the impact of the country’s lockdowns and border bans first hand, the words “fear” and “patience” kept coming up in the conversations, with the over-riding, risk-averse vibe of the government coming through loud and clear.

“All protocols to be implemented to prevent Covid-19 from being brought to Phuket by a visiting tourist must first be approved by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.”

About the prickly stumbling block of the 14 mandatory quarantine, Minister Phiphat said that all tourists who qualify to travel to Phuket will have to be tested before they depart their home country.

“They will be tested again after they arrive. They will all also be required to serve a mandatory 14 day quarantine period in an Alternative State Quarantine venue.” (which would be a selected Phuket hotel)

Delegations also headed to other parts of the island yesterday to gather information and speak to communities.

• Deputy Minister of Commerce Weerasak Wangsupakitkosol visited Nai Harn in Phuket’s south to speak to residents about employment and debt issues. He also opened the ‘Phuket Tastival & Seafood Gastronomy’ event at Palai Pier in Ao Chalong.

• Members of the coalition’s Bhumjaithai Party met community and business leaders in Cherngtalay to hear about how the area was coping with the situation. The Cherngtalay community includes Laguna, some of the upmarket beach resorts, a growing number of tourist attractions and a growing shopping precinct.

• Delegation visited the SuperCheap store north of Phuket Town on Thepkasattri Road and spoke to businesses owners.

• Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives visited farmers in Paklok, in the east of the island to hear about the issues local farmers and communities are facing.

SOURCES: The Phuket News | Newshawk Phuket

Thai tourism cavalcade rolls into town to get feedback on Phuket Model | News by The ThaigerThai tourism cavalcade rolls into town to get feedback on Phuket Model | News by The ThaigerThai tourism cavalcade rolls into town to get feedback on Phuket Model | News by The Thaiger

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