As summer travels around the world comes to a slow halt, it is the best time to reflect on the success of the Phuket Sandbox. Thailand has been known to be the go-to destination for many tourists, especially in the summer where travellers get to enjoy its pristine beaches and turquoise waters. The launch of the Sandbox was strategically planned (July 1st) to welcome pent-up travellers who have been grounded (literally) for close to 2 years.
Despite some pretty cumbersome initial restrictions; 3 COVID-19 tests; 14 days mandatory stay in Phuket before travelling to other provinces; $100,000 proof of insurance, the first 60 days of the Sandbox Scheme saw 25,866 foreign arrivals. The bulk from which were British and American travellers (about 7000 in total). The scheme also saw tourists from various countries like Israel, Dubai, Singapore and France etc. Most travellers spent about 11 to 12 days in Phuket before flying home.
According to a survey conducted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 80% of survey respondents were satisfied with the hospitality of the local people. 85% of them were also happy with the quality and service of the SHA+ hotels in the scheme.
1.63 billion baht in tourism revenue was generated in the first 2 months, a much needed confidence booster to the battered tourism sector in Phuket. Meanwhile, as of 16 September, 81% of locals have been fully vaccinated and the authorities are currently preparing for possible vaccination booster shots for its residents. Such high vaccination rates could be further assurance for travellers to visit Phuket when they are looking to escape the winter cold toward the end of the year. In addition, the Sandbox only saw 0.3% of tourists test positive, most of which were detected during arrival at the airport. To learn more about the most recent COVID statistics in Phuket, readers can click here.
TAT is also pushing for their neighbouring countries, Malaysia and Indonesia to be added to the approved list. This could be a possible strategy by the Thai government to boost end of year tourism. Currently, only 24,947 room nights have been reserved from October to February next year. A far cry from 366,791 room nights booked over the first two months alone (190,843 nights in July and 176,128 nights in August). Not to be dismayed however, there is a possibility that there will also be a boom in domestic tourism gearing toward the end of the year as 22% of Thailand’s population has been inoculated.
In fact, the country is preparing for a four-phase reopening plan from October till January 2022. The Phuket Sandbox & Samui Plus laid the existing groundwork for this reopening plan, with more areas and cities geared to open up as each phase unfolds. Thailand's capital city Bangkok will look to open in Phase 1, with other popular destinations like Chiang Mai and Krabi to follow suit.
While the Sandbox may not have been a resounding success as it intended to be, there are several positive takeaways from it. As the saying goes, “Half a loaf is better than none”. The Sandbox allowed the pandemic-weary residents of Phuket to finally see some normalcy in their lives, and this is vital as a confidence booster. While it could still take a while before we see pre-pandemic levels of demand, a small win is still a win.