Chiang Mai sandbox on course for October

Chiang Mai sandbox on course for October

Two districts chosen require 400,000 jabs

Park visitors enjoy the view from Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain peak.
Park visitors enjoy the view from Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain peak.

The Chiang Mai sandbox model will go ahead as planned on Oct 1 and target tourists from Asia as operators expect to receive a windfall from the Phuket sandbox.

Punlop Saejew, president of the Tourism Council of Chiang Mai, said the sandbox will take place in Mae Rim and Mae Taeng districts, which have abundant natural resources but a low population density.

To commence with the plan, the two districts will require around 400,000 vaccine doses for local residents.

However, vaccines for these residents have not been confirmed as the limited quantity of doses available must be distributed to other higher risk areas around the country first.

The provincial sector, including Chiang Mai's Provincial Administrative Organization, and private sector, are also planning to procure more doses independently to support the reopening scheme if the government cannot provide vaccines in time.

Mr Punlop said the government has to be more open towards the private sector who want to secure alternative vaccines to revive the economy.

Under the Chiang Mai sandbox -- quarantine-free entry for inoculated tourists -- international visitors must travel under the supervision of tour guides to designated routes.

In terms of inbound tourism demand, Asian nations including China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, are potential markets.

Operators will also attract long-haul travellers, particularly from Nordic countries who already planned to visit Phuket and may add Chiang Mai to their itineraries if activities such as trekking during the rainy season are promoted.

"The Phuket sandbox model will create opportunities for other provinces," said Mr Punlop. "However, we have to prepare for our reopening regardless of what happens with Phuket because the country cannot afford another lost year."

La-Iad Bungsrithong, president of the northern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said most hotels in Mae Rim and Mae Taeng are not members of the association so it has to make sure there is adequate and standardised accommodation to welcome tourists, especially when the fresh wave has led to hotel closures.

The Social Security Fund (SSF) has to pay 62% of a 15,000-baht salary nationwide for 90 days to maintain jobs.

Mrs La-Iad said if the virus is brought under control, domestic tourism is expected to restart in July while foreign tourists will come back in October.

"It is important to focus on state agencies and corporations as the number of leisure tourists in the early stage will be small," she said.

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