With their postcards of white sands and clear waters framing dreamy sunsets, motorcycle rides among lush vegetation and a wide cultural, festive and gastronomic offer, the island of Phuket exemplifies like few others the promise of a Unforgettable vacations and affordable in a paradisiacal beach setting.
Located at southern thailandYears ago, its attractive business card made it one of the most desirable destinations for tourists from around the world. As a result, in 2019 he received almost 11 million visitors, which left some 11,000 million euros, almost 90% of the local GDP.
As in other similar destinations in the region – Bali, Boracay or the Maldives, to name just a few celebrities – the arrival of the coronavirus and the closure of borders was a complete setback that left its economy shaking and its population in serious trouble.
Phuket’s beaches received 15,000 visitors in July. Photo REUTERS / Jorge Silva
Therefore, the authorities proposed their prompt open to foreign visitors.
To do this, they first prioritized the vaccination campaign in this region, where more than 70% of the population is inoculated compared to the meager 6% at the national level.
And since July 1, they allow the access of vaccinated tourists without the need for them to quarantine. If they test negative on arrival, they are allowed to move around the entire island without any limitation. After several days – between 7 and 14, depending on the destination – they can even travel to other provinces.
“My friend got tested at the airport, waited for the results at his hotel, and within six hours we were able to go out to dinner together,” Phil Anthony, head of a travel consultancy in Phuket, told CNN. “The feeling of being able to sit with a colleague you haven’t seen in a long time is phenomenal.”
The Big Buddha and Kata Beach in Phuket. Photo Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP
Like him, some 15,000 people they visited the island in July to take a dip and have cocktails. They are about 500 a day, a very small figure when compared with more than 40,000 newspapers from before of the pandemic, but they generate hope.
“We are at 1% normality. It is not good, but that 1% also encourages us for the future, “said the president of the Phuket Tourism Association, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam.
For the authorities, the Phuket experiment serves to verify whether a large-scale opening in the rest of the country. Since July 15, small islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao also receive vaccinated tourists, and other territories are expected to join.
The pandemic in Thailand
But given the current situation, these plans appear to be optimistic. In recent months, Thailand has suffered from the virulent scourge of the delta variant, which adds thousands of new positives every day while vaccination progresses slowly.
Karon Beach in Phuket. Photo Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP
In an attempt to keep the tourist bubble clean, the authorities banned domestic tourists from entering Phuket between August 3 and 18, although that has not prevented specific cases from being recorded.
These kinds of trials are valuable for a region that could take a long time, if at all, to regain its old normality.
“The covid is not going anywhere, and these pilot projects they could provide us with a viable way to travel in the future, ”said Andrea Oschetti, founder of the Blueflower agency. If one of them collapses, he added, it is not a sign of failure, but rather that it is necessary to “pause, recalibrate and present a better project based on what has been learned.”