The Tourism Authority of Thailand said more than 14,000 foreign “tourists” visited Phuket in the first month of the “sandbox” scheme, generating of 829 million baht.
For July 1-31, total international arrivals amounted to 14,055, with the largest source market being the United States with 1,802 arrivals. This was followed by the United Kingdom with 1,558 arrivals, Israel with 1,455 arrivals, Germany with 847 arrivals, and France with 839 arrivals.
TAT expects 100,000 foreign “tourists” will visit Phuket in the July-September quarter and inject some 8.9 billion baht of revenue into the local economy.
Despite TAT calling them tourists, a majority of the arrivals in July were, in fact, returning Thais or expats finally getting to come home and be reunited with families. A good number of foreign journalists and TAT workers also were counted as tourists.
Fully vaccinated and able to enter Phuket without the need to quarantine, as the Phuket “sandbox” program allows, these first tourists to return to Thailand as it begins to gradually reopen to tourism came on direct international flights operated by major airlines from points around the world.
This included Thai Airways International from Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Paris, London, and Zurich, Singapore Airlines from Singapore, Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi, Emirates from Dubai, Qatar Airways from Doha, and EL AL Israel Airlines from Tel Aviv.
Accommodation-wise, the arrivals for July saw 190,843 room nights booked at SHA+ certified hotels. August has a further 109,694 room nights in advance bookings and September another 9,182 room nights, altogether amounting to 309,719 room nights for the July-September period.
The rate of room reservations, however, has slowed notably in August, down 5 percent from the previous week due to Thailand’s uncontrolled coronavirus epidemic. The murder of a Swiss tourist in Phuket this week could only add to the decline.
July’s actual number of room nights far outperformed the advance bookings of 106,883 nights on the books at the beginning of July.
Tourists are required to stay at SHA+ certified hotels on Phuket for their added safety. SHA+ certification indicates a hotel meets the safety measures to control COVID-19, and also that 70 percent of its workforce has been fully vaccinated.
The 829 million baht in revenue for July included 282 million baht spent on accommodation, 194 million baht on the purchase of products and services, 175 million baht on food and beverage, and 124 million baht on health and medical services. Among the 14,055 tourist arrivals, the average cost of their vacation to Phuket was 58,982 baht.
Crucially, one of the key benefits of the Phuket sandbox program has been the creation of 210 million baht in salaries for the local employees in the accommodation, restaurant, and other sectors.
All the while, the commitment of the local provincial authorities and the Thai government to safely reopen Phuket has continued. Along with the necessary health and safety measures put in place and the proper protocols effected, this also involves the vaccination programme for the island’s population. As of July 30, 89 percent of the people had received their first vaccine dose, while 69 percent had received both doses.
With the pilot destination of Phuket – and as of 15 July, Surat Thani’s Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao – having reopened to tourism, the next two destinations are set to follow within August.
These are Krabi (Koh Phi Phi, Koh Ngai and Railay Beach) and Phangnga (Khao Lak and Koh Yao), where fully vaccinated foreign tourists will be able to visit the selected areas in each destination under a 7+7 model.
This model will reduce the mandatory stay in Phuket under the Phuket sandbox program from 14 to seven days, following which seven nights can then be spent in Krabi and Phangnga.
The idea behind the 7+7 model is to provide foreign tourists with more options to visit multiple destinations during their trip to Thailand. Krabi and Phangnga are ideal for this given their proximity to and ease of access from Phuket.