'Test and Go' freeze could hit Phuket
Fears grow visitors will head elsewhere
The suspension of the "Test & Go" scheme could affect foreign tourists arriving in Phuket via its sandbox scheme, the island's tourist association said on Wednesday.
Under Test & Go, fully vaccinated visitors from 63 countries and territories were exempt from quarantine and required to spend just a single night at a hotel that passed the Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus certification.
However, the government has announced the suspension of this scheme and other sandbox entries -- except the Phuket Sandbox -- and frozen the Thailand Pass system over concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant.
Tourists who registered to arrive before Jan 10 can still enter the country. For now, there are about 200,000 applicants and 110,000 have been approved.
The Phuket Sandbox is now the only way for new arrivals in Thailand to avoid quarantine unless they have already been approved through the Test & Go and Thailand Pass system. "The suspension of the Test & Go scheme will have an inevitable impact. But it is necessary to keep the economy going," said Bhummikitti Raktaengam, the tourist association president.
Phuket mainly has tourists from Russia and Kazakhstan at present and these countries can still enter via the Phuket Sandbox despite the change in other entry systems, he said.
The changes have led to two questions, he said: whether they will curb the number of foreign tourists in Thailand, or whether they will change their destination to Phuket instead. Nevertheless, the changes have raised concerns among business operators in the hospitality sector on Koh Samui, which had seen flight bookings and hotel reservations increase. They now fear another slump is on the cards.
Wittaya Wangphattanathon, a hotel owner on Hat Chaweng Beach, said many hotels have hired more staff during the peak season, were caught off guard by the move and fear further economic damage. Mr Wittaya called on the government to review the policy, as many tourists have made reservations at hotels. He also wants Koh Samui opened via a sandbox as most residents have been inoculated.