Phuket in a Covid Crisis – VIDEO

Phuket is facing an existential crisis. Because of its semi-isolation as an island, it doesn’t get much “passing traffic” and is too far away from Bangkok to attract much ‘weekend’ business. Whilst the borders stay closed the island’s businesses face ruin.

A year ago, the streets of this tourist island were brimming with a diverse international tourism mix. In fact the island had become one of the most popular tropical island destinations in the world, catering for both the high end, the back-packers and just about everything in between.

But nearly 9 months into a global coronavirus pandemic, things are now very, very different.

Since Thailand’s borders were closed, Thailand’s tourist magnets, including the southern island of Phuket, have faced the prospect of at least a short to medium term future without any means to run their businesses. Each of these shops is an individual, maybe a family, friends, employees, a landlord… all suddenly cut off from an income. Their sin, choosing to run a business, and pay hefty rents for the pleasure, in areas where tourists wanted to visit.

In the case of Phuket, which previously attracted 8-10 million international visitors a year, its cash lifeline, probably more than 90% of its economy, has been cut off.

The provincial government has done little, can do little, to help. The Thai government has had a round of cash handouts for people losing their job, but, in many cases, these have either been negligible and in some cases, never turned up. Either way, none of the government’s stimulus has been able to do much to help the island find a new pathway to re-open all these businesses.

As for Phuket’s 2,000 or so hotels and guesthouses, most of them still have their doors locked, some even completely vacated without even maintenance staff. The prospect of their survival, on domestic tourism alone, is impossible – Phuket, just too far away from the country’s population centres to get any passing or weekend traffic.

The island’s east coast, where many of the Thai’s live and the established families have their businesses, have burst back to life following the lifting of lockdown provisions in May and June this year. But a drive through the west coast towns looks more like the set of a dystopian Hollywood set, bereft of tourists, locals, and empty streets lined with row after row of shuttered shops.

This isn’t an exaggeration, this is how it is, and has been for months with little hope of the situation improving any time soon.

The businesspeople here followed the government’s demands to close up shop and lockdown for 6 week in March and April. A 6 week interruption to their businesses would be bad enough. But, here we are, 6 months later and the situation remains bleak.

In fact most of the owners and employees of these businesses have stripped their shops, left the island and headed back to their homes.

For the locals, who call Phuket home, they’ve had to find a new life, a new job and make a new start, often helped along by the kindness of strangers and the island’s expat community.

Thailand’s travel and hospitality industries, and they ARE industries, especially on an island like Phuket, are now in a perpetual limbo. Whilst everyone is happy to see a development like the Special Tourist Visa, it is not even a remotely sustainable model for Thailand’s tourism industry beyond the immediate short-term and will do little get these shops open again.

Phuket News

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