Sandbox Phuket is the name Thai authorities have given to the tentative scheme of reopening Thailand, step by step, to international tourists. The Phuket experience started on July 1. More destinations such as Samui Island and Koh Chang could follow.
It took over six months for the Thai government, regional authorities, the private and public travel sector as well as the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to mull out a final plan to slightly re-open the door to international travellers.
Phuket was designated as a test market for this reopening due to the ease of controlling entries and exits of outside travellers, thanks to the destination’s insularity. Sandbox Phuket is hoping to serve as a model for further reopening across the country until a potential full reopening at the end of October.
Phuket is the first region in Thailand to allow tourists in without being forced to undergo an expensive 14-day quarantine in a designated hotel property. They are designated as “SHA” or “SHA Plus” accommodation.
Currently, there are 1,389 venues and businesses across Phuket that have received the Amazing Thailand SHA certificate. These include 882 in the hotel, accommodation and homestay category. But not only that: 169 restaurants, 157 travel agencies and 181 businesses in other categories are also part of the certification process.
Only tourists from low risk countries can visit Phuket
For TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn, “The SHA Plus certification indicates that a business not only has in place the required safety and hygiene standards to control COVID-19, but that at least 70% of its employees have been fully vaccinated.”
In Phuket, the basic rule is to stay for 14 days on the island before eventually being able to travel to other destinations in the rest of Thailand. A certain number of rules must additionally be observed. Tourists must obtain from an embassy or consulate a Certificate of Entry (COE). They must show proof of purchase for a 14-day accommodation in a health-safe certified hotel; show a 100,000 US dollars Covid insurance and proof of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before departure. Travellers will undergo three more PCR tests during their stay. All foreign visitors will also need to download an official tracing application for their Thailand stay.
Phuket Sandbox is also only open for vaccinated international travellers coming from low risk countries. This eliminates important incoming source markets such as the UK or Russia for the time being.
International direct flights are again available out of Phuket. National carrier Thai Airways International is linking Phuket to Copenhagen, Frankfurt, London, Paris and Zurich starting july 1st. Other airlines flying to Phuket include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines. More carriers are likely to follow.
Covid takes a heavy toll on the Thai society
The latest Covid wave in Thailand took the Kingdom by surprise. The country showed incredible resilience throughout 2020, with few cases being registered. But since February, the number of infections has grown rapidly, putting the economic recovery of the Kingdom at risk. Tourism represents close to 20% of the country’s GDP. A recent study shows that 550,000 jobs in tourism vanished in the second quarter with the third Covid-19 wave.
The economic collapse is to some extent behind the government’s decision to launch the Phuket Sandbox. In a recent statement, Thailand Prime Minister explained that the government needed to strike a balance between economy, public health and infection control.
It was also announced that a trio of destinations in the Gulf of Thailand — Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao — could reopen to fully vaccinated tourists on July 15. The reopening of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin and Pattaya are tentatively scheduled from October.