- Under the Phuket Sandbox plan, the Thai government plans to open Phuket to vaccinated travelers on July 1.
- But there’s some red tape: International visitors don’t have to quarantine — but Thai citizens do.
- The entire plan is contingent upon Phuket hitting at least a 70% vaccination rate among locals.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Thai government is planning to reopen the party island of Phuket to vaccinated travelers on July 1, but there’s a catch.
While vaccinated international travelers will be able to fly into Phuket and go about their lives without a quarantine, the same does not hold true for Thai citizens. Instead, as the Bangkok Post reported, Thai citizens will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine.
“The quarantine-free entry is only available to those without permanent residency in Thailand. Thai citizens can enter the country but have to follow the existing rules, which requires them to lodge in alternative state quarantine for 14 days,” said Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn, per the Post. The decision comes down from the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
It’s all a part of the Thai government’s Phuket Sandbox plan, and it hinges upon at least 70% of the local population being vaccinated by July 1. As of June 16, less than three weeks before the projected opening date, that threshold had not yet been met: 60% of Phuket’s population had been vaccinated. Still, it’s far ahead of the rest of the country, which has fully vaccinated only 2.6% of the population.
Under the plan’s current guidelines, international travelers would have to take RT-PCR tests on the first and fifth days of their stays, download an alert app, and wear masks. Aside from that, they would be free to travel within Phuket immediately, and throughout all of Thailand after spending at least 14 days in Phuket.
The TAT did not immediately reply to Insider’s request for comment for this story.
High stakes for Phuket and the entire Southeast Asian region
The decision to enact different restrictions for international travelers and Thai travelers has sparked outrage on Facebook, where some people hailed it as discriminatory against Thai people.
Dr. Jaeyeon Choe O’Regan, who has a Ph.D. in tourism management and focuses on sustainable community development in Southeast Asia, told Insider it’s not the first element of Phuket’s reopening plans that has caused controversy. She cited tensions between locals who are employed by the tourism sector and those who are not.
“Local people who are not involved in tourism are really worried that tourists will give them COVID-19,” Choe O’Regan said. “So the locals who are not involved in it are not happy about this plan.”
The lack of tourism has been devastating for Phuket, where the industry accounts for 80% of the economy and more than 300,000 jobs.
Eyes across the world are trained on Thailand as the July 1 date draws closer. While much of Europe and the US have opened back up to international travel, most borders in the Southeast Asian region remain closed, or, if open, open with strict quarantines.
If the plan to open Phuket succeeds, it could offer a model for other Asian countries whose economies are struggling to fill the hole left behind when borders closed to international travelers more than a year ago.
“Generally speaking, it’s really positive that someone is trying to experiment with the reopening in Southeast Asia because summertime is coming and Southeast Asia is losing the market,” Choe O’Regan said, while also stressing that health concerns related to vaccination rates remain the priority.
But if Phuket Sandbox fails, it’ll become the latest in a string of failed attempts to jump-start tourism across the region, from travel bubbles that never were to extended tourism visas that fell flat.
Final plans for Phuket Sandbox are under review by the Royal Thai Government and are expected to be announced on Friday.