- Thailand is set to open its top party island, Phuket, to all vaccinated travelers by July 1.
- International tourists will be able to enter Phuket without quarantining and to travel to other parts of Thailand if they stay in Phuket for at least 14 days.
- The launch is dependent on Phuket hitting a 70% vaccination rate among locals.
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For months, the beaches and bars in Phuket, Thailand’s top party destination, have been empty.
That’s set to change on July 1: The government is looking to reopen the island destination to vaccinated tourists from low- to medium-COVID-19-risk countries.
The plan is known as “Sandbox Phuket,” and it’s contingent upon the local vaccination rate hitting at least 70%. Currently, Phuket’s vaccination rate stands at about 60%, Bloomberg reported. Sandbox Phuket represents a landmark moment for tourism reopening efforts across Southeast Asia, where international travel is still largely suspended.
“It’s the first time anywhere east of the Maldives that you have a country with this population size with such a low vaccination rate actually opening up to the rest of the world,” Ho Kwon Ping, the executive chairman of international hospitality brand Banyan Tree Holdings, told Bloomberg.
The government expects to welcome 129,000 tourists in the first three months of opening. A screenshot of a Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) presentation shared on Twitter shows the bulk of arrivals, especially in the first two months, are expected from the long-haul market, which includes pensioners, digital nomads, and families with kids.
According to a June 15 TAT news release, all travelers will be required to present vaccine certificates, download an alert application, and stay in establishments that have received an Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus certification.
Travelers can also expect to get a RT-PCR test upon arrival and on the fifth day of their stay, per the news release. Masks must be worn at all times in public, and in cars if more than two people are present.
Beyond that, though, no quarantine is required, and there is no minimum stay if the traveler’s only destination is Phuket. Travelers looking to use Phuket as a launching point for further travel within Thailand are required to stay in Phuket for at least 14 days.
While Phuket’s vaccination rate is still below the threshold Thailand has set for reopening, it is significantly ahead of the rest of the country. To date, 6.9 million vaccine doses have been administered in the country of 69 million people; around 2.4% of the total population is fully vaccinated.
Final plans — including what types of activities will be open — are under review by the Royal Thai Government and are expected to be announced on Friday.
An economy direly in need of tourists
Thailand closed its borders to international visitors in March 2020.
Since then, the economy has taken a hit — unemployment hit a 12-year high in the first quarter of 2021 — and tourism numbers have cratered. In 2019, the country welcomed more than 39 million international tourists, World Bank data shows. In 2020, that number fell to 6.7 million arrivals.
About 20% of the Southeast Asian nation’s GDP is tied to tourism, per World Bank data reported on by Reuters. In Phuket specifically, tourism accounts for 80% of the economy and more than 300,000 jobs, per Nikkei.
This is not the first time Thailand has tried to reopen to tourists during the pandemic.
It has hatched various quarantine schemes in past months in efforts to get high-spending tourists back in its borders, including a 14-day golf quarantine on a golf course and allowing tourists to quarantine on their private yachts.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand, for its part, has made no secret of how eagerly it’s awaiting the tourism relaunch: Splashed across its official homepage is an enormous timer that’s counting down the literal seconds until Phuket reopens to something resembling its former self.