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Like a rolling stone (2 decades and counting). My home, Phuket.

Bill Barnett

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Like a rolling stone (2 decades and counting). My home, Phuket. | The Thaiger
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by Bill Barnett from c9hotelworks.com

Driving down a seemingly endless winding road on the warm tropical island of Phuket, I glance up and see a sign indicating a left turn, shouting out in big bold letters ‘Welcome to Days of Future Past.’ Reading between the lines, let me state that we have landed headfirst like crash test dummies into the uncertain days of 2021.

I’ve managed to pass the last 2 decades (20 years or thereabout) in Phuket. In a life spent more outside my own country of birth than inside, my nomadic travels and work have cut a rather expansive swarth all over Asia, the Pacific and far, far beyond. Countries lived in once I start counting, well let’s say I run out of fingers on both hands while reciting the roll call.

Despite the seemingly endless list, what defined the revolving trip before landing here could best be summed up in the words of Bob Dylan “how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home. A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” I never really managed to stick anywhere for so long, except right here on a small island in Thailand.

So how does it feel? After all this time and despite the bad, sad craziness of 2020, I have to say my heart remains full of love for this place we call Phuket, which has become my own home town. The gap time, the fringes at the end of a year, and beginning of a new journey are always a fine time to reflect. And this I shall do, so bear with me.

Covid-19 in some way has learnings and out of the worst of times, can come green shoots, so here are mine. When I look at Phuket, it’s not with rose-colored shades and I certainly see the litter by the roadside, cracked and peeling paint, and the painful price of a taxi, if only you can find one. Yes, it can be chaotic, funky and frustrating at the worst of times.

But looking past the frayed ends what comes home to roost is the absolute sense of community the pandemic has created from physical lockdowns to emotional rollercoasters. I can look back at the amazing generosity of locals and expats to feed the poor during the closures, or those amazing people who give of themselves to worthy causes from educating Burmese kids, to small informal schools or saving dogs, cats, elephants, and just random acts of kindness at the worst of times.

While most tropical islands tout their natural attractions, what makes Phuket special is the people, the spirit and most importantly how it keeps moving ahead with its own flaws and imperfections. I’m not a big believer in religion, what we have today is pretty much it, and those pictures of saints in the sky are way too vanilla for me.I’d never get into heaven in a black t-shirt. In a life marred by some good and other very, very bad decisions, the only way forward has had a hell of a lot of bumps in the road. But what a ride.

And as I hit my turn signal to indicate a left turn into 2021, my thoughts arrive at the simple conclusion there is no better place to be than Phuket. We all need a little adrenalin in our lives, it’s the best reminder that we are alive and Covid-19 has and continues to provide just that. It’s the unknown.Our only way forward is with faith, community and belief that this too, as in all things, will also pass.

I’m looking forward to seeing Phuket on the other side of this debacle and believe its best days are yet to come.Tourism will return. I believe this island sandbox remains a place of magic, promise and generous souls.So how does it feel, you might ask? It feels just fine. Thank you Phuket for bringing me home.

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29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Happy Times

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 2:42 pm

    very nice article. A god read. Thank you. I also agree tourism will return. “Rome wasnt built in a day”. It wil be a little bit longer, but I feel it will return.
    Cheers Bill

    • Avatar

      BC

      Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 5:37 pm

      I think commenter TS might have said it best, and still with a sense of decency and respect, to his credit. Does a realtor perhaps have some skin in the game to promote Phuket to the levels that he did? You betcha. Are parts of Phuket still lovely after all of these years, especially with the drastic Covid-caused reduction in tourists over the last 10 months? Absolutely. But when tourism comes back, and it will most likely come roaring back, and when the newer massive hotel and condo projects are complete and when the existing rooms are even 80% occupied, the sheer numbers of bodies and cars and mini vans roaming the island will threaten to bury that loveliness and ‘warm people’ under an avalanche of steel, shopping malls, gridlock, and noise. Naiharn, as TS mentioned, was an amazing tranquil unspoiled spot. Now Rawai and Naiharn are in danger of becoming suburban zones with more shops and houses and mini Tesco Lotuses than green spaces and peacefulness. Whatever floats ones boat, but the days of Phuket being a “small enchanting tropical island” are long gone.

  2. Avatar

    Kim

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    It’s not only the painful price of a taxi. There is a reason why the common Thai does generally not go to Phuket. FnB and hotels are way overpriced and while the western tourists may not care about costs during their holidays, this is unfortunately what feeds the local greed, Thai and foreigners alike. If the business owners would make an effort to root out the local mafia and corruption and make Phuket a safe place with competitive and fair prices, I’m sure Phuket would once again be a nice place to go for holiday and also reside.

    • Avatar

      Tim Houston

      Monday, January 4, 2021 at 4:39 pm

      I will never understand people ranting about prices in Phuket, yes it’s slightly more expensive than some shit holes in Thailand, and it’s better that way. Keep the cheap charlies away.
      Anyways it’s the same in every countries, Monaco isn’t as cheap as Calais beach.

      • Avatar

        preesy chepuce

        Monday, January 4, 2021 at 5:26 pm

        Phuket is a long way from Monaco, in every sense…

        The high prices don’t reflect higher standards, for either Cheap Charlies, or Well-heeled Wallies… without the sunshine, it’s Blackpool.

      • Avatar

        Kim

        Monday, January 4, 2021 at 5:32 pm

        By your comments, its evident that there is a plethora of facts you dont understand. You must be a deranged foreign business worker who thinks Fhuket is comparable with Monaco. Now go back to your bar in patong.

      • Avatar

        Alte Ledertasche

        Monday, January 4, 2021 at 9:22 pm

        Phuket is even more expensive than Marbella for examole if you count all expenses like schooling, healthinsurance etc. and it not provides even half the ligestyle quality.

        By the way I am talking about a budget of 8K US per month.

        Looking for some short distance destination it is even nore expensive than KL which is a developed city with proper bars and restaurants and first class shopping compared to shithole Phuket, better than stinky Bangkok though.

        • Avatar

          barry

          Monday, January 4, 2021 at 9:46 pm

          Try Fukuoka. It’s got nice weather, great food, a more relaxed, international vibe, great onsens, surfing in Miyagi, in winter you can shinkansen to snow country for some Jappowder, and you plane hop to Okinawa for some tropical weekends, and you can also easily shinkansen to Tokyo for even more shoppy shopping…
          Easy peasy. With 8K a month you’ll be golden

  3. Avatar

    Delroy Barnett

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    Driving down a seemingly endless winding road on the warm tropical island of Jamaica, I glance up and see a sign indicating a left turn, shouting out in big bold letters ‘Wah Gwaan Jamaica’ Reading between the lines, let me state that we have landed headfirst like crash test dummies into the uncertain days of 2021.

    I’ve managed to pass the last 2 decades (20 years or thereabout) in Jamaica. In a life spent more outside my own country of birth than inside, my nomadic travels and work have cut a rather expansive swarth all over Asia, the Pacific and far, far beyond. Countries lived in once I start counting, well let’s say I run out of fingers on both hands while reciting the roll call.

    Despite the seemingly endless list, what defined the revolving trip before landing here could best be summed up in the words of Bob Dylan “how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home. A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” I never really managed to stick anywhere for so long, except right here on an island in the Carribean.

    So how does it feel? After all this time and despite the bad, sad craziness of 2020, I have to say my heart remains full of love for this place we call Jamaica, which has become my own home town. The gap time, the fringes at the end of a year, and beginning of a new journey are always a fine time to reflect. And this I shall do, so bear with me.

    Covid-19 in some way has learnings and out of the worst of times, can come green shoots, so here are mine. When I look at Jamaica, it’s not with red, yellow and green shades and I certainly see the litter by the roadside, cracked and peeling paint, and the painful price of a taxi, if only you can find one. Yes, it can be chaotic, funky and frustrating at the worst of times.

    But looking past the frayed ends what comes home to roost is the absolute sense of community the pandemic has created from physical lockdowns to emotional rollercoasters. I can look back at the amazing generosity of locals and expats to feed the poor during the closures, or those amazing people who give of themselves to worthy causes from educating kids from the garrisons, to small informal schools or saving dogs, cats, manatees, and just random acts of kindness at the worst of times.

    While most tropical islands tout their natural attractions, what makes Jamaica special is the people, the spirit and most importantly how it keeps moving ahead with its own flaws and imperfections.
    I’m not a big believer in religion, what we have today is pretty much it, and those pictures of saints in the sky are way too vanilla for me.I’d never get into heaven in a black t-shirt. In a life marred by some good and other very, very bad decisions, the only way forward has had a hell of a lot of bumps in the road. But what a ride.

    And as I hit my turn signal to indicate a left turn into 2021, my thoughts arrive at the simple conclusion there is no better place to be than Jamaica.
    We all need a little adrenalin in our lives, it’s the best reminder that we are alive and Covid-19 has and continues to provide just that. It’s the unknown.Our only way forward is with faith, community and belief that this too, as in all things, will also pass.

    I’m looking forward to seeing Jamaica on the other side of this debacle and believe its best days are yet to come. Tourism will return. I believe this island sandbox remains a place of magic, promise and generous souls.So how does it feel, you might ask? It feels just fine. Thank you Jamaica for bringing me home.

    • Avatar

      barry

      Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 10:30 am

      One size fits all, isn’t it…

      • Avatar

        Issan John

        Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 12:41 pm

        Summed up for me by the line

        “… in this place we call Phuket …”

        Well, that has been its name for a couple of hundred years so it would be a bit odd to call it anything else …

  4. Avatar

    Guillermo Baranetto

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    Driving down a seemingly endless winding road on the warm island of Ibiza, I glance up and see a sign indicating a left turn, shouting out in big bold letters ‘What Happens in Ibiza Stays in Ibiza’ Reading between the lines, let me state that we have landed headfirst like crash test dummies into the uncertain days of 2021.

    I’ve managed to pass the last 2 decades (20 years or thereabout) in Ibiza. In a life spent more outside my own country of birth than inside, my nomadic travels and work have cut a rather expansive swarth all over Asia, the Pacific and far, far beyond. Countries lived in once I start counting, well let’s say I run out of fingers on both hands while reciting the roll call.

    Despite the seemingly endless list, what defined the revolving trip before landing here could best be summed up in the words of Bob Dylan “how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home. A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” I never really managed to stick anywhere for so long, except right here on an island in the Mediterranean.

    So how does it feel? After all this time and despite the bad, sad craziness of 2020, I have to say my heart remains full of love for this place we call Ibiza, which has become my own home town. The gap time, the fringes at the end of a year, and beginning of a new journey are always a fine time to reflect. And this I shall do, so bear with me.

    Covid-19 in some way has learnings and out of the worst of times, can come green shoots, so here are mine. When I look at Ibiza, it’s not with Ibicenco-white shades and I certainly see the litter by the roadside, cracked and peeling paint, and the painful price of a taxi, if only you can find one. Yes, it can be chaotic, funky and frustrating at the worst of times.

    But looking past the frayed ends what comes home to roost is the absolute sense of community the pandemic has created from physical lockdowns to emotional rollercoasters. I can look back at the amazing generosity of locals and expats to feed the poor during the closures, or those amazing people who give of themselves to worthy causes from educating migrant kids, to small informal schools or saving dogs, cats, patches of posidonia seagrass, and just random acts of kindness at the worst of times.

    While most Balearic islands tout their natural attractions, what makes Ibiza special is the people, the spirit and most importantly how it keeps moving ahead with its own flaws and imperfections.

    I’m not a big believer in religion, what we have today is pretty much it, and those pictures of saints in the sky are way too vanilla for me.I’d never get into heaven in a black t-shirt. In a life marred by some good and other very, very bad decisions, the only way forward has had a hell of a lot of bumps in the road. But what a ride.

    And as I hit my turn signal to indicate a left turn into 2021, my thoughts arrive at the simple conclusion there is no better place to be than Ibiza.
    We all need a little adrenalin in our lives, it’s the best reminder that we are alive and Covid-19 has and continues to provide just that. It’s the unknown.Our only way forward is with faith, community and belief that this too, as in all things, will also pass.

    I’m looking forward to seeing Ibiza on the other side of this debacle and believe its best days are yet to come. Tourism will return. I believe this island sandbox remains a place of magic, promise and generous souls.So how does it feel, you might ask? It feels just fine. Thank you Ibiza for bringing me home.

    • Avatar

      Alte Ledertasche

      Monday, January 4, 2021 at 9:25 pm

      Yes Ibiza is definitely a nice place. Sa Trinxa is a classic.

    • Avatar

      Albert Zweistein

      Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 5:47 am

      Spending winter in Ibiza ? I don’t want to think about it. By october it’s deserted.

      • Avatar

        barry

        Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 10:29 am

        Winter’s really the best time, along with autumn and spring. No crowds, usually good weather. But the best place to stay is really Formentera.

  5. Avatar

    Frédéric C

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Dear B.Barnett and everyone,
    As a large part of expatriate in Thailand, I experience the same feelings, that there is no better place to make it home. I believe that Phuket will survive and take a new path in the future.Thank you for putting words in the face of so much emotion and challenge. So hold on and Best wishes for 2021.

  6. Avatar

    Mark Davies

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    I’m a big fan of Phuket and they should now use this time as an opportunity to clean & fix the place up (especially the roads & sidewalks) and the Patong beachfront promenade.

  7. Avatar

    Issan John

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    Once was enough.

  8. Avatar

    James Pate

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    Phuket used to be somewhat more fun 25 years ago. Yeah, I was somewhat more fun 25 years ago, too. Phuket is just not for me. For those who like it, go ahead. No one is stopping you. I’ll take a pass. And no, it’s not about the money. I just don’t like the place. To each, his own.

    • Avatar

      TS

      Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 9:23 am

      It’s a good thing to love your home of twenty years. Everyone should be so lucky to love where they live. Mr. Barnett, you’re a realtor/deveoper correct?
      I was there as a backpacker fourty five years ago. Stayed in a hut on totally undeveloped Naiharn beach and continued non backing visits there through the late 70s to mid 90s as the island developed. The visits were fun but I’d been to much better beach destinations in Mexico and Central/South America. Last visited in 2017 taking a speedboat over from Krabi with the family for a planned three day stay on Phuket. The rip-offs started as soon as our feet left the pier at Chalong. Finally rented a car-much cheaper than local transportation. Driving around the island here and there almost everywhere was shabby and congested, merchants? meh. roads were crap condition. Except for the entrance ways to the very high end luxe resorts looked nice. We’d seen enough and cut our visit short by a day and headed back to Krabi and the islands.
      True, living there is a very different experience with the sense of community spirit and all i guess. We have that up in our NE Thai home town as well. A beach fix is a morning’s flight away. Happy for you and best of luck but that will be our last Phuket visit. We won’t be missed and visa versa.

  9. Avatar

    Ian

    Monday, January 4, 2021 at 10:39 pm

    I’ve never been and seriously I don’t think I ever will I wantvthecreal Thailand it a place described as Blackpool with sun it sounds so grose I think maybe I’m on a rd to nowhere sounds about right

  10. Avatar

    barry

    Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Phuket reminds me of some areas of Bali, especially Rawai / Chalong that feel a little like Sanur for instance.

    If you avoid Patong, Kamala and other west side resort towns, it’s not a bad place to stay.
    Food is ok, lots of supermarkets (Tesco, Makro, Village Market…) and possible to score pretty much anything food-wise, good size, nice views in the hills and some ok beaches like Karon/Kata, surfing off-season.

    Many people around me with kids settle either in Bali or Phuket, for the international schools + beach/island lifestyle. Phuket definitely has the upper hand in terms of amenities, food choice and average living standards, but I still prefer Bali in terms of atmosphere and sceneries (if you avoid Kuta and other dumps).

    • Avatar

      Alte Ledertasche

      Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 12:04 pm

      Schooling is one of the main reasons we will leave Thailand. International schools are overpriced and education not of suitable quality. You get better value in southern Spain for example despite the fact that there the governmental education is better than an international school in Thailand anyway.

      • Avatar

        Issan John

        Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 12:30 pm

        So why are you still here, supposedly waiting for the school year to finish?

        It’s like Toby A moving to Cambodia because he’d had enough of the “corruption” and the “dictatorship” in Thailand!

        • Avatar

          Alte Ledertasche

          Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 1:56 pm

          Its about finishing primary school. For thats OK, for secondary defintely not.

      • Avatar

        barry

        Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 12:42 pm

        I understand. In this case, Singapore would be your best bet in Asia. With 8K USD a month that should be fine.

        Otherwise Japan, but most good international schools are in areas that don’t offer a great quality of life, such as Tokyo, or Kyoto (great for a few day’s holiday, but really not a fantastic place to live imo).

        My sister loved Singapore, and her daughter was in a good international school there. Not my cup of tea, but if education’s the key, it’s probably your best bet in Asia.

        But if you’re not set on Asia per se, I’d choose New Zealand, by far.

        Otherwise Canada? BC’s nice, a little pricey but good quality of life, awesome education, if you don’t mind the cold that is.

        Southern Spain (or Cyprus, Malta) will not live up to your shopping and food requirements – nice for a couple of months but forget settling there.

        • Avatar

          Alte Ledertasche

          Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 2:19 pm

          I agree with Singapore. Its also a nice place to live and its OK on 8K US. We used to travel there 3-4 times a year. KL with Mm2H is also an option.

          But our target is Spain, Marbella, Malaga or Alicante. We were thinking about Ibiza but there is not much choice regarding international schools.

    • Avatar

      phuket resident

      Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 10:55 pm

      Bali is not bali its australia

  11. Avatar

    Tony

    Wednesday, January 6, 2021 at 11:00 am

    My first trip to Thailand was 2006 Mia Khao area Marriot Hotel. I loved it and came back every year but 2007 for 2-3 months. I met a Thai lady on her birthday March 03 2019 who is now my wife. For 10 years I worked 9 months and came to stay with my now wife 3 months. Many times renting a house for 2 months after visiting her family in northern Thailand. I have travel east to west north to south and observed especially in the north poor air quality year around. Too much burning off fields with little effort to mitigate. And the garbage/ plastic problem all ten years with no change but the change of more. I tell my wife it’s the World Capitol of plastic. It doesn’t have to be that way. When renting in Nai Yang Phuket airport town which is supported maybe 80% with international tourism me and my wife took walks at night and to and from the 3 times week outdoor market. I told my wife if Nai Yang would get it’s citizens to clean it up and make it pristine (and yes it can be done just watch a documentary about Japan and I challenge you to see any garbage/plastics in the roadway or anywhere as the film moves from place to place) Nai Yang would become the go to location in Thailand for Farangs by word of mouth.
    I challenge you Mr Bennett who loves Phuket Island so much to use your love and influence to clean up Phuket Island and make it the Shining City on the Hill. What better time during this stoppage and reset of international travel (so to eliminate any blame to the outsiders) to do this and experiment to see if the Thai people have it in them! The Phuket Thais could start an example and precedent. If you get something going I’d love to help as I am retired in Khok Kloi a very close neighbor to Phuket.
    The only negative I see is the tourism in Phuket increases the population by leaps and bounds. On the other side being positive increase in individual and community pride, economy equating to a better more healthy family life and an example that the rest of the Kingdomcan emulate!
    Just Imagine? What If?
    As we say in USA “Get er done”

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Bill Barnett has over 30 years of experience in the Asian hospitality and property markets. He is considered to be a leading authority on real estate trends across Asia, and has sat at almost every seat around the hospitality and real estate table. Bill promotes industry insight through regular conference speaking engagements and is continually gathering market intelligence. Over the past few years he has released four books on Asian property topics.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

ASQ + Vaccine in Thailand proposal gets the thumbs down

The Thaiger

Published

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ASQ + Vaccine in Thailand proposal gets the thumbs down | The Thaiger

OPINION

A spokesperson from a Thai tourism association came up with the “cunning idea” yesterday to propose a ASQ + Vaccine package to travellers and tourists. So not only do you get your 14 day mandatory quarantine at an expensive hotel in Bangkok, the opportunity to submit copious amounts of paperwork and drill through the red tape. NOW you get a jab of Covid-19 vaccine included. All for the all time low starting price of 150,000 baht. Read the original story HERE.

Bargain!

Of course The Thaiger readers and viewers raced to congratulate the rocket scientist who came up with this brilliant piece of tourist marketing. Suffice to say, it’s dead in the water even before the ambulance arrives…

Ron Rossington
Until the ditch the 14 day quarantine and end the ineffective lockdowns, Thailand will not get the tourist numbers they are in dire need of to stabilize the economy.

k tara
Another brilliant idea for tourists which will be dead on arrival. Do these people live in reality.

rickdangr
Tourism will NOT return until the 14 day quarantine is gone! Get the vaccine out to the Thai people, then start with allowing tourists in without quarantine, that have been vaccinated. This would be a smart way to open, and to get it done by April 1st, before the Songkran holiday.

Paul D
Hello Thaiger Team, the story with regards to vaccinations tagging on with the STV, seems to me as another of Thailands false hope stories. But I am sure the Government powers may have overlooked the strong suggestions many Airlines have voiced, “that no traveller will be allowed on the flight unless they have proof of vaccinations”. Even this is not 100% at this point. Some countries will not even allow their citizens to leave right now. I think the Thai government, even though are doing as much as they can right now, needs to not provide false hope to travellers at this point.

Energy3
another gimmick by thai officials – free vaccine with STV – sounds like you’re getting a happy meal with a free toy
Sai Sai
This is ridiculous!

Tyler Durden
These Thai officials need to wake up. The reason us tourists aren’t coming to Thailand is because of the 2 week quarantine, adding extra vaccination costs on top of an already expensive STV visa ain’t gonna get me over there that’s for sure. If these officials don’t drop the 2 week quarantine, there once popular visitors are going to be popular visitors elsewhere, as already I know many people traveling to South America.

And this gentlemen, J German, who went to all the trouble for little return…

I went to Bangkok in Dec. for the holidays. I did my 2 weeks of ASQ during which the shrimp market outbreak started. By the time I got out of quarantine, I had 4 nights of fun, but it was far from what the scene once was. I had a fun NYE, then it all got shut down. I went there to be in a country that was “safer” and not on lockdown. I lost that bet. Then Taiwan closed to international flights, cancelling my trip home. I got on the next plane to the US, leaving several weeks early so as not to get stuck there with nothing to do. My advice is, don’t waste your money or your time (like I did) until vaccinations are widely distributed and quarantines are over.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand’s tourism in the Covid 2021 era

The Thaiger

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Thailand’s tourism in the Covid 2021 era | The Thaiger

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine this week for emergency use in the country. Two private hospitals are also ordering millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines ahead of this regulatory approval. This is in addition to the government’s order of 63 million doses from two main sources as Thailand rushes to implement vaccinations for the majority of its population.

With regard to it’s non-Thai residents it is still unclear if this includes the substantial expat community or whether they will be excluded, as the country tackles a second wave of the virus.

The future of travel in Thailand is to open borders while mitigating the risk. This can be achieved by ensuring illegal border crossings are tightly controlled and all travellers tested. Tourists arriving should not only be tested showing they are free from covid, but to avoid quarantine, must also have been vaccinated. The numbers will be small to start with but the industry is at a complete standstill. I have never experienced anything close to the devastating effects of the coronavirus.

The tourism industry has ground to a halt and is currently battling a spate of infections brought about by poor Burmese workers searching for work and sneaking across the border and spreading infections before restrictions were put in place. As a counter measure to reduce the spread the government has restricted everyone from high risk areas from travelling freely around the country. Putting a firm brake on domestic tourism in addition to international arrivals.

The introduction of colour-coded zones has been put in place since a major outbreak occurred in Samut Sakhon at a seafood market with illegal Burmese migrant workers. In addition to restricted domestic travel an amnesty for the illegal entrants has been offered by the Thai government in a serious effort to reduce infections and have all illegal migrants registered and tested.

Qantas is also toying with requiring vaccinations and was the first airline to announce it will require international passengers to be vaccinated. Singapore is also considering relaxing its quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers if clinical trials show vaccines lower transmission risks. (However short-term visitors will need to show evidence of insurance to cover medical treatment and returning Singapore citizens from Britain and South Africa will be subject to additional restrictions).

Until there’s an abundance of approved and delivered vaccines, it’s all but impossible for anyone outside government to get a shot. However there will be a market driven by those with money to jump queues as we saw recently. Once the UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, travel agents in India started seeing an increase for quick vaccination trips to the U.K. Attention is now on the US and Russia as possible vaccine destinations.

But it’s not all about money. In Thailand according to a Reuters report, a million doses of the Sinovac vaccine has been ordered by the Thonburi Healthcare Group, with an option to buy 9 million more. The hospital group plans to use half to inoculate staff in its network of 40 hospitals.

The Thai government has separately ordered 2 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech and expects delivery of 200,000 doses with plans to inoculate frontline workers and medical professionals in high-risk areas next month.

The government has also ordered 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will be produced by local firm Siam Bioscience for domestic use and export.

For patients, Thonburi’s medical centres plan to offer 2 vaccine injections for 3,200 baht ($106) and say they cannot take a profit because it is a humanitarian issue for the country.

However it is claimed that rich nations are stockpiling the most promising coronavirus vaccines, and people in poorer nations could miss out as a result. Campaigners are urging pharma companies to share technology so more doses can be made.

Just 1 in 10 people in dozens of poor countries will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus because wealthy countries have hoarded more doses than they need, said the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Global Justice Now.

They claim that rich nations have bought 54% of the total stock of the world’s most promising vaccines, despite being home to just 14% of the global population, said the Alliance.

Those wealthy nations have purchased enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations three times over by the end of 2021 if the vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials are approved for use.

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns that the world is on the brink of a “catastrophic moral failure” over Covid-19 vaccine distribution, he urges countries and manufacturers to share doses more fairly across countries. Mr. Ghebreyesus said this week that prospects for equitable distribution are at serious risk. “Ultimately these actions will only prolong the pandemic.”

Safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines mean that life, including travel, are likely to get back to normal one day. Assuming that vaccines also protect against most virus mutations as well as against spreading the virus, Covid restrictions should end once *herd immunity is achieved. The whole world needs immunity, and achieving that in 2021 is unlikely.

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.

Not all businesses have been forced to close down but widespread financial uncertainty means the tourism industry has struggled over the last year. It is grim, however I think even if we get a small fraction of the 39 million tourists of 2019 we can survive and prosper.

The short term goal is survival and then to start to thrive in the ‘new world’ of tourism. Getting back ALL that was lost is not realistic or achievable nor should it be a goal.

Our focus on combating the virus and providing relief to our tourism industry should be the goal of all travel and tourism associations here in Thailand. Unity and leadership is so desperately needed if we are to look forward to recovery including the introduction of stimulus measures.

Accelerating the distribution of vaccines is the key to getting travel back to normal, and to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

For many travel business owners and hoteliers the challenges are to ensure a positive cash flow and GOP (a company’s profit from selling goods or services in a particular period before costs not directly related to producing them). Any asset value increases would be welcome but unlikely just now as property prices are currently turning south. Property maintenance and equipment replacement will be a real challenge in the future as Return On Investment fall short.

Government assistance on tax and payroll would be really helpful at this juncture but our industry is so fragmented and ‘unorganised’ in a collective sense. Governments consider hospitality and service industries in general as good employees of the grey areas of the workforce, that have a way of “sorting themselves out” with little need for government help.

Any cries for help are often ignored as the political will is simply not there. Our voice is drowned out by louder more organised industries that offer opportunities of jobs and local investment.

The tourism industry is called an invisible export…

However government grants and loans to small businesses are essential, the economic hardships of the pandemic will persist, so it is important that struggling businesses receive assistance to maintain operations and keep workers on payrolls.

Travel will play a vital role in Thailand’s economic recovery in the months ahead, but businesses will need lifelines by the government to survive until regular travel can fully resume.

Also a key lesson I see from other industries is that they be able to adapt quickly, look at noodle sellers here in Bangkok. Lines of Grab Bikes delivering take away food — changes are happening overnight and there’s no time for long deliberations and discussions. Those that can react quickly to these big shifts in consumer demands and priorities are going to come out on top.

As to jumping on a plane anytime soon, well that appears most unlikely. My birth country the UK, according to it’s current rules, once the lockdown is over, Brits could legally go on holiday abroad if they live in tiers one or two. However, holidays are effectively off the cards for the UK until at least April 2021.

As for Thailand our seven steps to navigate before anyone may be granted permission to enter, greatly impact the process of entering the country.

The ASEAN Tourism Association warned last week that 70% of travel agents in Thailand would cease to operate this year if the Thai government did not step in with assistance.

It is clear the second round of the Covid-19 epidemic has severely affected faith in the future inbound tourism industry, many agents have to decide to either suspend or close operations. The Thai government has not offered the private sector any substantial assistance, short or long term. There is considerable confusion about whether to invest in keeping a business going or whether to close. The government must be clear in its policy to help or not help the travel industry.

ANDREW J WOOD

Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

The content of this article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of The Thaiger.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived.

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Thailand threw a tourism party. No one arrived. | The Thaiger

OPINION

The Thai Government, flushed with the success of their containment of Covid-19, decided to market the Land of Smiles to the world as the safe place to travel. With the annual wet season starting to weaken the tourists would flock back to the S E Asian country that had such remarkable success containing, then almost eradicating, itself of the coronavirus.

They floated the Phuket Model – a chance to visit Phuket and do your mandatory quarantine in a luxury hotel with walks along the almost deserted beaches. But Phuket’s locals didn’t like that idea. It was floated again just before the annual Vegetarian Festival on the island, because piercing yourself with sharp objects and wandering around the streets in big groups isn’t dangerous, but a few foreign tourists in hotel quarantine is.

Then they came up with the STV – the tourist visa which would have the world’s eager travellers packing their sun cream for up to 270 days of Thai tourism.

There were promises of plane loads of tourists and even published flights and carriers. A few flights arrived, most didn’t.

In fact, since the start of the STV, the Special Tourist Visa, with its long list of restrictions and requirements, was floated, along with a re-vamped Tourist Visa, less than 400 people have arrived per month, on average, since the end of October. In the October and November of the year before more than 3 million people arrived in Thailand. Even the government’s limit of 1,200 new tourist arrivals per month was even slightly tested.

The government had bought all the streamers and a pretty new dress for the party but no one came.

For the Army generals and public servants who ran the country it was a devastating loss of face. But they had other things to worry about at the time as the Thai youth were revolting, literally. Anti-government protests, whilst modest in size, were inconveniently demanding democracy at the same time as the government was trying to figure out how to attract tourists. They were also targeting, for the first time, the country’s revered monarchy and the man who currently sits on the Thai throne.

Suddently it was high season, the annual onslaught of tourists from the end of November, but popular spots like Phuket, Samui, Krabi, all the other islands, even Chiang Mai, just remained mostly devoid of tourists.

Meanwhile the STV wallowed in its own failure – another failed response to the reboot of Thai tourism.

What went wrong?

Where was the much-anticipated pent-up demand and people banging on the doors of the world’s Thai embassies?

It was the European winter and the ‘snowbirds’ would surely be back to soak in some Thai sun rays. But no.

The first problem was there wasn’t much for them to come back to. They would have the beaches of the islands all to themselves, they wouldn’t have to wait in line for anything, the domestic airlines were still selling low fares to travel anywhere around the country.

But otherwise there wasn’t a lot for them to do. The tourism magnets were a shadow of their former selves. Walking Street, Bangla Road, tours and tour boats, all the tourist-strip restaurants. The buzz of the crowds was gone and more than 90% of the tourist-related business had closed up.

Their staff, their families, their bank loans, their stock and investments – all on hold and forced to find some other means to make ends meet. 931 of some of the larger official tourism operators have now gone out of business, according to Bloomberg News. There would be thousands more of the smaller family operations that have also been swept aside by the Thai government’s responses to the world pandemic.

The industry players wanted action, changes and some sort of stimulus to bring back the tourists. For a country that relied on up to 20% for its GDP, getting the tourists and travellers back was THE only thing on their mind. 2019’s tourism revenue of US$60 billion had vanished from their, and their employee’s, pockets.

But the government wouldn’t relax the quarantine rules and maintained the restrictions and paperwork that has turned off even the keenest Thai-ravellers.

An outbreak of clusters to the south of Bangkok and the nearby eastern coastal provinces since December 20 hasn’t helped. In less than a month Thailand’s number of Covid-19 infections more than doubled. Initially the latest outbreak was tracked down to the illegal import of Burmese migrant workers by greedy seafood businesses wanting cheap labour. Then it spread to eastern provinces – Rayong, Chan Buri, Trat and Chanthaburi – through illegal gambling dens. In both cases the practices were things the local officials turned a blind eye to. The use of cheap, illegal migrant labour and illegal gambling were both popular pursuits but ‘underground’. It was a rude awakening for Thai officials that, this time, the enemy was within.

Street after street in Pattaya is deserted, shops shuttered. Parts of Phuket’s Patong are a ghost town. The island’s ubiquitous tuk tuks, taxis and tourist vans have vanished (where?!). Most of Bangkok is ‘sort of’ back to normal but there are few tourists topping up the retail till or booking rooms in the tens of thousands of hotels. Average occupancy rates, even for the brave hotels that have re-opened their doors, has been less than 30% – bottomline, they’re losing money.

On the upside, if you are living in Thailand, the plane fares remain cheap, hotels have slashed their prices and, for the first time, many renters will consider a discount. The Thai government has been active in stimulating the domestic tourism but apart from circulating the local currency, the country’s tourism industry remains on-hold until the pandemic passes. And that, as we’ve seen, won’t be any time soon.

The world’s travellers, now a much smaller groups than the masses that fuelled the world’s aviation industry in the past few decades, are not heading to Thailand to front up to a 14 day quarantine. They’re going to the Maldives and Costa Rica, and a handful of other resorts who have thrown caution to the wind – some with greater success than others. Just about every survey indicates that tourists, even business travellers, are not willing to stare down 14 days couped up in a 20-30 square metre hotel room. For many of the hotels that rushed to be registered as ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) facilities, many have dropped out, some of them are now closed.

The stakes are now really high for Thailand and its tourism industry. The government, despite demands, is refusing to reduce the quarantine time or lessen the long list of restrictions and paperwork. The country has now lost it’s glossy veneer as the ‘safe country to visit’ and the annual high season will be coming to a close in a month or so.

Chinese New Year and the annual flood of Chinese visitors to Thailand? Won’t be happening in 2021, the Chinese year of the Ox.

The other ‘elephant in the room’ was the high value of the Thai baht against the currencies of some of the traditional feeder markets. Whilst the Thai baht has been relatively steadfast, many of these currencies have dropped in value against the THB. The perception was that Thailand as becoming too expensive to travel. But 2019 was still the biggest year for tourism on record, despite this often-wheeled out prediction of a tourism apocalypse.

The only hope on the horizon is the vaccine, or vaccines. The early global roll out is just that, early. It will take 6 – 12 months to see if the hard work of the world’s medical and scientific community will be the great saviour.Certainly, a risk-averse Thailand will be limiting any tourism in the immediate future to vaccinated customers. only, and (as stated policy) they will still have to do the 14 day mandatory quarantine, at least in the short-to medium term. Same with the world’s airlines. So Thailand’s tourism woes, especially in the hotspots – Pattaya, Phuket, the islands, Chiang Mai and Bangkok – will reverberate throughout 2021 as well.

Thailand’s economy contracted 6% in 2020 but some economists are predicting a positive turn-around to a 3.5 – 4.5% improvement in 2021. Even the ever-optimistic Thai Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, says that there will be 10 million arrivals in 2021. The actual numbers, even in the best of circumstances, will fall well below that prediction. Exactly where the tourists would come from, under the current circumstances and a global depression, is difficult to imagine.

In 2020 the buzz word in the tourism industry was ‘closure’. In 2021 it will be ‘management’.

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