Pleas issued for sandbox inclusion

Pleas issued for sandbox inclusion

Call for clarity on scheme's status

Tourism operators in popular destinations are urging the government to include their areas in the sandbox programme as only Phuket is allowed that privilege now.

Suvarnabhumi airport has received the most arrivals since November, so Bangkok and areas within a two-hour drive should be treated equally to Phuket, said Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council.

He said the government has to clarify the criterion for sandbox status, then each area can adapt to meet the requirements.

If there is a shortfall of booster shots in any area, the government should accelerate vaccine administration and work to encourage the unvaccinated to enrol, said Mr Thanet.

According to the Public Health Ministry's vaccine dashboard as of Dec 22, the number of people who have received a third jab in major destinations remains low, with 8.31% for Chon Buri, followed by Chiang Mai (6.79%) and Krabi (5.82%). Phuket had a higher booster rate of 54%.

"The suspension of the 'Test & Go' scheme is expected to last for two weeks at the moment, but foreign tourists have to plan their trips well in advance. The long-haul market may have already changed their plans to other destinations because of the flip-flop on policy," he said.

Operators in Pattaya plan to submit a proposal for sandbox status to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said Mr Thanet.

Charintip Tiyaphorn, president of the Tourism Council of Krabi, said airlines that operate direct flights from Scandinavian markets might cancel flights if the suspension of Test & Go is extended beyond two weeks and Krabi is not included in the sandbox programme.

Prior to Test & Go suspension, Krabi hotels anticipated a 35% occupancy rate in January, but they could lose 50-60% of existing bookings if tourists are forced to accept mandatory quarantine, she said.

There are options to avoid this quagmire, said Ms Charintip, such as expanding the sandbox to other pilot areas or resuming Test & Go with regular updates to the low-risk country list based on new cases.

"We need a concrete plan from the government before Jan 7 to prepare a business strategy before we miss the whole high season," she said.

La-Iad Bungsrithong, president of the Thai Hotels Association's northern chapter, said Chiang Mai has been unfazed by the new travel rules because the number of international tourists is limited.

She said the tighter measures are necessary to prevent an outbreak in the country that could trigger another lockdown and ruin the whole industry, including the robust domestic market in the North.

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