A LEADING international resort developer who founded the Banyan Tree Group has called on European policymakers for their support in getting the Phuket Sandbox quarantine-free tourism model to work.
Ho Kwon Ping made the call at a summit of Phuket travel leaders attended by the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s deputy governor for international marketing, the Phuket vice-governor, hotel and development chiefs, airline executives and two European consul generals among others.
While authorities in the Thai capital grapple with rising Covid infections, the Phuket Sandbox Summit was told that the island should be regarded in Europe as a separate “green” zone – a status allowing quarantine-free entry for travellers who have been fully vaccinated and tested negative for Covid.
The summit at the Laguna Phuket heard that the island has the potential to lead a recovery in global tourism with the sandbox initiative setting the standard for other destination to follow. The model is seen as vital for reviving destinations in Thailand and elsewhere that rely on a thriving visitor economy.
The Thai government granted Phuket province permission to operate the sandbox model from July 1, but governments in key markets such as Britain have the whole of Thailand on its amber list of Covid-risk countries instead of considering Phuket separately.
Tourism Authority of Thailand deputy governor Siripakorn Cheawsamoot told the summit: “We are trying to propose to the UK government [for Phuket] to be on the green list of destinations, even though Thailand is on the amber list. We are optimistic about Phuket Sandbox. Phuket is safe and we will never compromise anyone’s safety.”
Cheawsamoot said almost 300,000 rooms have been booked in Phuket until the end of August in hotels operating under the SHA Plus safety hotel health and safety protocols. He also conformed nearly 13,000 arrivals and 124 flights after 28 days of the sandbox opening, with many more scheduled.
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Top markets are the United States, the UK, Israel, Germany, France, the UAE and Switzerland with an average length of stay 11 days, according to new data presented at the summit.
The Phuket Sandbox enables fully vaccinated international visitors to fly directly to the destination and stay on the island quarantine-free. Hotels need to ensure at least 70 per cent of staff have received vaccines – the same inoculation rate as Phuket’s population.
While the high-level of protection offered by the measures does not prevent people catching Covid, the summit was told that the likelihood of serious infection and hospitalisation would be significantly reduced.
KP Ho, who is also Banyan Tree’s executive chairman, told the summit by video link that by highlighting new data it should be possible for Phuket to be set apart from the rest of Thailand and placed on the “safe list’ of destinations to visit.
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He said the UK government has already placed the island of Madeira on its green list while the rest of Portugal remained in the amber category; the same principle applied to Denmark and the Faroe Islands.
“Infections and re-infections are not what really count,” KP Ho said. “It’s hospitalisation rates and ICU [intensive care unit] rates that count. The Thai government has to emphasise those new numbers and shift the narrative towards ‘how many people are really getting sick?’ – not ‘are the numbers going up?’
“What’s really important is that EU countries – the national governments, spurred on by travel agents, the media and other people – recognise that it’s necessary to disengage the perception of Phuket from the rest of Thailand. It should be a situation where Thailand could be a red-alert zone but Phuket could be a green zone,” he said.
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KP Ho was the most globally connected leader speaking at the conference. He developed the first Banyan Tree property in Phuket before the brand became an international resorts player.
He said a series of sandbox models could be developed in other destinations such as Bali and Phu Quoc, Vietnam. Koh Samui is the only other Thai island where the model is currently operating. “As long as that sandbox is well organised, as it is in Phuket, it should be separated from the rest of the country.”
Vice Governor of Phuket, Piyapong Choowong, added: “I would like to confirm we support Phuket Sandbox. We are making sure people on the island and all visitors are safe so we can run the sandbox smoothly and continue to welcome more tourists to Phuket.”
After presenting fresh data, C9 Hotelworks consultant Bill Barnett said: “There is a lot at stake but what is clear is that Phuket Sandbox is alive and well, and it’s working.”
Main picture: KP Ho gives an interview in connection with the summit, which can be viewed here…