July 24, 2021

Despite the third corona wave: Phuket opens to tourists

Status: 06/30/2021 5:13 p.m.

From Thursday, foreign guests will be able to vacation again on the Thai holiday island of Phuket – without a two-week hotel quarantine. The pilot project is to be followed by other destinations in Thailand.

By Jennifer Lange, ARD-Studio Singapore,
currently Hamburg

Three tigers splash around in a pool of water. A manager at the tiger park on Phuket pats the fur of another. “I am pleased that people will finally visit the tigers again and that Phuket will be revived,” Phonphawit Ton-od told Reuters. He looks over at his employees who are just bringing the animals their food. “The tourists will help both the tigers and the staff stay mentally healthy.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, only around 20 have come to the park every day instead of 1,000. No country in Southeast Asia is more dependent on tourism than Thailand. Last year, the country earned around 42 billion euros less because the tourists stayed away because of the corona pandemic.

Prime Minister sees calculated risk

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has therefore decided to open the country step by step: “I know this decision is associated with a certain risk, because if we open the country there will be more infections, no matter how good ours Precautions are taken, “he explains on Thai television. “But I think if we consider people’s economic needs, now is the time for us to take this calculated risk together.”

Anyone wishing to enter the country as a tourist must be fully vaccinated, present a current negative corona test and be tested three more times on site. After 14 days, tourists can then travel to other parts of the country. To give tourists a feeling of security, the government has accelerated the vaccination campaign on Phuket. 75 percent of the residents are now vaccinated. In the rest of the country it is just four percent.

A mixed response from tourism companies

Despite all the measures, the president of the tourism association is expecting few guests: “The reopening gives us hope that we will come back to life, but we do not expect much demand at the beginning.” Due to a lack of tourists, some shops are not yet open, such as a spa that is designed for hundreds of visitors. It’s just not worth it for the owner. “The costs for ongoing operations, staff and rent are just too high. We have to be sure that a lot of customers come before we open,” she says.

Small and medium-sized businesses sometimes lack the money to repair, paint and reopen their shops, says Sragsan Thongtan. “Tourists will see buildings that are for sale, buildings that are not rented, stores that are closed, Starbucks stores that are closed. Do you think this is a good environment for tourists? No!” Together with others, he is calling for low-interest government loans to get out of the crisis.

Corona pandemic increased poverty

All over Thailand people have lost their jobs and businesses have had to close. The poverty is great. In a fishing village north of Phuket, Shaun Stenning distributes food in plastic bags. When a reporter asked how he knew whether the reopening worked, he replied, “If I can stop handing out those grocery bags.”

In less than four months, the government wants to completely reopen the borders to tourists. Thailand is currently fighting with its third and so far strongest corona wave. Restrictions in the capital Bangkok have been tightened. The Prime Minister is still sticking to the plan to open Phuket. The population supports this, says Muhammad Prasanpann, head of the fishing village: “Because as long as the tourists cannot come, the people have no income, only expenses.”

At the Tiger Park on the holiday island of Phuket, they hope that despite everything, many tourists will come. You are well prepared, says manager Chadarat Taodaeng proudly. “We want to create trust. We have vaccinated more than 90 percent of our employees. Have practiced routines to clean all surfaces that are touched every thirty minutes.” But now your employees first clean the cages of the tigers. Then it’s the turn of the footpaths, which will be used by numerous tourists again from today.

Phuket opens to tourists

Jennifer Lange, NDR, 30.6.2021 · 16:22