Over a year since the pandemic broke, the world is slowly healing, and nations are starting to reopen their borders. In an effort to help Thailand’s tourism industry bounce back, the Phuket Sandbox was launched on July 1st. The program aims to attract fully vaccinated individuals from low to medium-risk countries to visit the country again. Tourists can now travel to Phuket and move around freely without any quarantine requirements. Direct international flights from major cities around the globe have reopened, with several airlines servicing the routes.
Under the program, visitors are required to stay in SHA+ certified accommodations during their stay in the country. This certification is given to establishments that met the safety standards set by the authorities, which includes having at least 70% of the workforce fully vaccinated. Similarly, tourists must also avail themselves of activities and tours from SHA+ certified tour operators and agencies. The Thai governing bodies also encourage tourists to practice DMHTT which stands for Distancing – Mask-wearing – Hand washing – Testing – Thailand Plus.
By the numbers
Since its launch in July, the Phuket Sandbox has welcomed 36,875 international arrivals during the first two-and-a-half months of operations. Hotel bookings continue to rise with 542,281 room nights booked from July 1 to September 25, 2021. Meanwhile, 141,882 room nights have already been reserved for October 2021 to February 2022.
In a report from the Tourism and Sports Ministry’s Economics Tourism and Sports Division in early September, the Phuket Sandbox has generated a revenue of more than 1,634 million Baht, with an average spend of 61,894 Baht. This includes a total of 565 million Baht spent for accommodations, 376 million Baht from goods and services, 350 million Baht from food and drinks and 229 million Baht from medical and health services. Visitors from the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, and France make up the majority of the tourist arrivals during this period.
A survey was conducted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand between 11 July – 15 September 2021 showed that 85% of the respondents were satisfied with the services and amenities of the SHA+ certified accommodations they stayed in, while 80% of respondents were satisfied with the local people’s hospitality.
Phuket Sandbox is part of the first phase of Thailand’s reopening timeline, with three more phases expected to commence in the succeeding months. Meanwhile, a similar program dubbed Samui Plus has been implemented in the neighboring island of Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island and second most popular island destination. Koh Samui has seen 786 tourist arrivals from July 15 to September 20. 575 of which have completed their mandatory stay in Phuket under the Sandbox program. This has resulted in 9,823 room nights booked, bringing in a revenue of 58.90 million Baht for the island.
Following the success of the pilot run, the government then reopened the borders of Surat Thani, Krabi, and Phang-Nga to travelers, applying the same concept and guidelines used in Phuket.
As part of the second phase, Thailand is eyeing to reopen five (5) destinations using the same system implemented in Phuket. The Royal Thai Government announced on September 9th that Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chon Buri, Phetchaburi, and Prachuap Khiri Khan are set to be reopened next, allowing more international tourists to visit these destinations without quarantine restrictions, provided that they are already fully vaccinated. The second phase will be launched alongside the country’s newly adjusted and polished universal prevention guidelines against COVID-19. Local government and tourism agencies on the said destinations are now formalizing tourism campaigns and accelerating the vaccination of the local population to prepare for reopening.
The third phase of the reopening will cover Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Lamphun, Sukhothai, Nan, and Phrae in the North; Nong Khai, Bueng Kan, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Thani in the Northeast; Trat, Chanthaburi, and Rayong in the East; Ratchaburi and Kanchanaburi in the West; Ayutthaya in the Central Region, as well as Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Satun, Ranong, and Songkhla in the Southern part of the country. Lastly, thirteen (13) border provinces are set to reopen on the fourth phase as part of travel bubbles with neighboring countries. In total, the reopening project is expected to cover forty-three (43) provinces and shall pave the way for the re-establishment of tourism in the country.
With the world’s nations slowly reopening their borders and adapting to the new normal, Thailand is at the forefront of welcoming visitors back to its berth. Neighboring island destinations in Asia such as Bali in Indonesia, Langkawi in Malaysia, and Phu Quoc Vietnam have shown interest or have started planning the implementation of similar travel sandboxes to rekindle their tourism industries. Phuket Sandbox is a testament that the passion to travel is very much alive in the hearts of the people, and it’s exciting to see what’s about to unfold in the months to come.