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Ready to Follow Suit? Thailand's Exciting Approach to Reopening

The covid-19 pandemic has forced both the governments and the businesses to work at the maximum of their creative capacity. The hospitality industry entered a relatively undiscovered terrain of relying on staycations and transforming themselves into a special type of coworking space for people tired of the constant distractions of remote work. States, on the other hand, arguably faced a much more difficult situation – balancing between the harrowing death rate and a complete economical shutdown has proven to not be for the faint of heart.

During the past 19 months governments experimented with many approaches but some of them, such as travel bubbles, have unequivocally faltered. In search of new ideas, Thailand has decided in favor of a relatively courageous strategy: quarantine-free travel to Phuket, its prime touristic destination. The so-called Phuket Sandbox plan is dependent on the vaccination rate among the island’s residents, which is to meet at least a 70% mark. It currently stands at about 60%, far higher than the 5% nationwide, after a widely reaching campaign to get the local population vaccinated.

Such a proposal is quite a precedent, given a relatively sluggish reopening of the majority of Asian countries due to the somewhat slow vaccine rollouts. Many of them still only allow residents to enter and execute strict lockdowns in an attempt to keep Covid cases at bay. Hong Kong and Singapore have been trying to open a quarantine-free travel corridor for months, but this plan did not work due to the repeated and relatively numerous outbreaks.

Banyan Tree Executive Chairman Ho Kwon Ping welcomes the ambitious initiative, mentioning that the islands could be a perfect place to begin with thanks to them being more isolated by nature. He also thinks that waiting for the international community to accept and bring in motion the vaccine passports is not a good idea, especially when some countries, such as the US, are changing their minds regarding this plan due to privacy concerns.

As a result, some of the hospitality industry players have already benefitted from the renewed inquiries. The Slate Phuket, for example, has received bookings from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Israel, which are all previously unexplored terrain for the property, according to Krystal Prakaikaew Na-Ranong, the hotel’s co-founder. She expects 20%-30% occupancy in the third quarter and up to 50% in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Banyan Tree’s Ho further notices that Phuket’s success should not be judged by the immediate numbers straight after the island’s reopening but rather a gradual increase in arrivals over a prolonged period of time, as only a few hundred visitors are expected in July. Such a steady rise would demonstrate confidence ahead of the high season in November and December, he said.

Could this become a workhorse approach for the rest of the countries, especially as neighboring Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines are getting ready to all inevitably fight for the demand? Time will show but it is certain that the Sandbox strategy is highly dependent on the inoculation rates, which means that governments might need to exert extra effort into bringing both the vaccine demand and supply in line with the relatively high expectations essential for this initiative.

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