As Phuket reopens, small businesses feel left behind

As Phuket reopens, small businesses feel left behind

An aerial photograph shows a lone visitor on Karon Beach on Wednesday, one day before the “Phuket Sandbox” tourism scheme that allows visits by people vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus is set to launch. (AFP photo)
An aerial photograph shows a lone visitor on Karon Beach on Wednesday, one day before the “Phuket Sandbox” tourism scheme that allows visits by people vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus is set to launch. (AFP photo)

PHUKET: As the government prepares to celebrate the country's reopening to foreign tourists this week, many businesses on the holiday island of Phuket aren't so enthusiastic about the return of visitors.

Phuket is a pilot programme for the reboot of a tourism industry gutted by the pandemic, allowing fully vaccinated visitors with negative coronavirus tests to fly directly to the southern island, bypassing 14-day quarantine requirements.

But local firms say they've been left behind and aren't expecting much from the trickles of tourists due to arrive starting Thursday. Visitors will see a different Phuket from the one visited annually by millions before the pandemic struck.

"They will see buildings on sale, buildings for rent, shop closed, convenience store closed. Do you think it's a good environment for the tourist? No," said Srangsan Thongtan of the Phuket Tourism Entrepreneur Development Association, adding that businesses are urgently in need of soft loans to rebuild. "It's very hard to open ... we don't have budget, we don't have money to repair, repaint everything to bring our business back."

More than 2 million tourism workers have lost their jobs since last year, including 400,000 in the first quarter of 2021, an industry group said this week, while the central bank governor said tourism could take "five years plus" to normalise.

Thailand lost about $50 billion in tourism revenue last year when foreign arrivals plunged 83% from the nearly 40 million visitors in 2019.

Natchakanya Sanguanwong, manager of Anchan spa, which once served hundreds of tourists each day, said many businesses won't see the revenues from the first batches of visitors, who will stay in government-accredited hotels.

"Our spa couldn't reopen because it requires the cost of utilities, staff, and rent," she added.

Manish Prathap, manager of the Centara Grand hotel, said his resort is expecting about 20% occupancy initially and for that to double when the plan catches on.

"Agents and as well as guests will start having trust and faith in Phuket Sandbox programme," he said.

The hotel's duty manager, Kamonrat Thudphimai, said she was excited.

"I've been missing the moments during holidays like during Christmas," she said. "We're hoping those moments return." 

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