Phuket hoteliers optimistic on recovery
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Phuket hoteliers optimistic on recovery

The first flight in the reopening scheme for Koh Samui arrives on Thursday.
The first flight in the reopening scheme for Koh Samui arrives on Thursday.

The first 14 days of the Phuket sandbox scheme have shown promising signs as the number of Covid-19 cases is less than 1%, says a tourism trade group, with operators urging the government to approve the Sputnik vaccine to attract the Russian market by October.

"During the first two weeks, we have built up the confidence of foreign travellers," said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.

As of July 14, there were 5,473 international arrivals under the Phuket scheme, out of which only 10 have tested positive for Covid-19.

The association estimates the Phuket sandbox will welcome a total of 18,000 travellers in July, 30,000 in August, and 35,000 in September.

The top origin markets for the scheme this month are the US, with a mix of business and leisure travellers, followed by the UAE, Israel, the UK and Germany.

Mr Bhummikitti said the government should endorse the Sputnik V vaccine for travellers from Russia, who were a key market for Phuket in 2019.

If this vaccine is approved by the third quarter, Russian travellers will start to return in October, he said.

Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, said UK residents who travel from amber list destinations, including Thailand, will not have to isolate from next Monday, which could mean more British travellers visiting Phuket.

Speaking at the online seminar "Welcome Back Home", Ravi Chandran, managing director at Laguna Phuket and executive vice-president at Banyan Tree Group, said hotels feel encouraged as guests seem to be happy to be back in resorts after the lockdown.

Prior to the sandbox, Laguna Phuket, which has seven hotels, posted an occupancy rate in the single digits. It has risen slowly to 20%.

As the third quarter is typically considered the low season in Phuket, the group is looking forward to the last quarter, when more sports events like golf tournaments are scheduled.

"Phuket will start to feel a real impact in October when the Russian market returns, along with Northern European guests," said Bill Barnett, managing director at C9 Hotelworks.

There are 12,000 hotel rooms in the pipeline, of which only 13% were cancelled and 20% delayed, said Mr Barnett.

However, 67% or 8,000-9,000 rooms are slated to flood the market, representing investors' confidence in the destination.

Mr Barnett said hoteliers will not see arrival numbers similar to 2019 for 3-4 years. Patong should be the centre of inbound demand, as well as Kamala, Cherng Talay and Mai Khao, he said.

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