Early signs of Phuket revival appear but...
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
Despite the new pandemic wave that has affected the Kingdom over the last few months, Thailand is working to speed up the reopening of its borders to vaccinated tourists with the aim of lifting most restrictions by mid-October 2021. Phuket has been chosen as pilot in this process and the “Phuket Sandbox model” launched on July 1st crystallizes all the hopes of a nation that relies heavily on the tourism industry to get its economy back on track (read our article on the Phuket Sandbox). Even if Phuket hotels are planning a gradual recovery with pre-Covid levels expected in 2023, the first signs are clearly visible.
“Now is the ideal time to reopen the country to the world, following other destinations in Europe, the Middle East and the US that have already opened to safe countries and vaccinated travellers," said William Heinecke, founder and chairman of Minor International.”
Nonetheless, and even though clear signs of recovery are emerging, the mid-term projections for mass tourism remain difficult to predict due to the many requirements to enter Thailand, applicable to fully vaccinated tourists.
Garth Simmons, Accor's managing director for Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, said there was a growing trend in searches for Phuket and bookings from countries with high rates of vaccination after confirmation of the reopening of Phuket in July by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
The Accor group, which owns 21 hotels and resorts across the island, more than half of which have already reopened, has recorded a 92% increase in bookings since the confirmation of the Phuket Sandbox, especially for high-end establishments. Encouraging signs of recovery fueled by tourist clientele from Germany, UK, Middle East and Israel.
For its part, Airbnb - the vacation rental giant - has noted a significant increase in searches for stays in private villas in Phuket. However, due to the conditions imposed by the Phuket Sandbox Model, it is now very complicated for tourists to opt for a stay in a private villa during the first 14 days after their arrival. Indeed, only hotel establishments benefiting from the SHA + label are authorized to welcome tourists during this period and very few private villas have been granted this label. There is therefore a greater demand for long stays - of 28 days or more - mainly attributed to a change of lifestyle, to those who now fully work online and to a new way of traveling in times of pandemic.
Eager to reach pre-pandemic levels, but cautious not to fuel a new pandemic wave that would nullify its efforts, Thailand is playing the card of a “Test & Learn” strategy which unfortunately tends to create confusion - between lack of clear information on entry conditions and contradictory instructions. In this uncertain context, hotel operators are therefore more reluctant to devote resources to the reopening plan. On their side, tourists, lacking confidence, are reluctant to return in large numbers.
All hospitality players agree that clear and timely communication between all stakeholders is vital for the reopening to be a lasting success, and that Thailand would need a clear communication strategy to regain confidence from travelers and businesses in the tourism sector.
“The government should consider a long-term tourism stimulus plan in close collaboration with the private sector and local communities to boost the revival of the industry”, Simmons said.
Hopefully things will change for the better soon!
SOURCE: BANGKOK POST