VICE CRACK-DOWN AIMS FOR A NEW ERA IN PHUKET TOURISM

The Phuket reopening looks like it is achieving some moderate success as a senior Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) official heralds a new future for tourism in Phuket without beer bars and prostitution.

The Director of the Creative Activities Division of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr Nat Krutsuot, outlined the program aiming to bring back colour, which along with higher quality and certified facilities, should give foreign tourists more confidence in what could be a new era for Thai tourism.

Thai authorities including the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn have launched a crackdown on prostitution in Phuket which they fear may threaten the moderate success that has been achieved since last Thursday when the island reopened to international tourism.

It also comes as a senior executive with the Tourism Authority of Thailand heralded the new certified status of accommodation and tourist facilities on the island which has drawn the ire of smaller business concerns and operators left out of the current initiative, as a new standard for Thai tourism heralding a higher quality experience.

It comes as bar and entertainment venues on the island remain closed and there are strict criteria for who foreign tourists can bring to their hotel rooms on public health grounds.

Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has strongly criticised those critical of government efforts to reopen Phuket to foreign tourism as he unveiled plans to crack down further on the danger of prostitution to the scheme.  He expects to see 12,000 foreign tourists visit the holiday island in July with rising demand.

On Saturday last, the first Thai Airways flights arrived on the island and the national flag carrier is reporting strong demand for its 5 weekly flights from European cities to Phuket on Friday and Saturday.

Mr Phiphat, is calling on security services and the navy in Phuket to help control prostitution on the island amid fears that breaches of the strict Covid 19 protocols may be occurring and the danger to the overall implementation of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ project seen as critical to the reopening of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry and on which the government also now finds it has staked a lot of its political capital.

Mr Phiphat is even calling for naval patrols to guard against people being smuggled onto the island for nefarious purposes.

It comes as the scheme in Phuket appears to be gaining traction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicating that at least 8,000 applications for Certificate of Entry have been processed and with reports from Thai Airways that there is strong interest in its five weekly flights on Friday and Saturday from European capitals to Phuket.

Chief Commercial Officer of Thai Airways, Non Klinta, was upbeat about the Sandbox scheme and confirmed that the airline will fly in at least 1,300 passengers in the course of July with advance bookings already at this level.

Minister Phiphat said he was concerned about some initial delays at Phuket International Airport as it was a key goal of authorities to reduce the waiting time for incoming tourists to the minimum.

On Saturday, officials reported seven infections on the vaccinated island where 84% have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose.  The cases involved incoming travellers from the mainland who had been placed in quarantine since they were not fully vaccinated.

Officials have now altered the protocols so that anyone entering Phuket from another part of Thailand must have a negative Covid-19 test and be fully vaccinated.  Governor Narong said ‘We have discovered recently that most of the new cases are people who have entered the island via land and are staying in designated local quarantine venues. As a result, we have cancelled the option for people to serve the 14-day quarantine when entering by land.’

‘From now on, people wishing to enter by land must be able to show proof of vaccination and the results of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours prior to arrival. If they cannot produce this they will not be permitted to enter via the checkpoint.’

Many observers are predicting that the first month will see upwards of 12,000 visitors to Phuket which will represent some success for the government if matters proceed safely and without incident.