Phangnga tourism still suffering
Reopening has started slowly, but the hope is things will improve
The majority of souvenir shops, restaurants and massage shops in the Khao Lak coastal area of Phangnga province have seen no signs of recovery despite the country having reopened to foreign tourists for over three weeks.
The beach-resort city is still quiet with only a small number of visitors, mostly from Germany, who decided to make Thailand the destination for their holidays.
Jennifer Voracet, a 32-year-old German tourist, and three of her friends made the decision to visit Khao Lak. She said she loved the friendly community, food and seaside with nice beaches and sunshine that had encouraged her group to revisit Thailand after the Covid-19 outbreak diminished.
After spending two weeks in Khao Lak, she and her friends were at the Andaman Hub Medical Centre in Takua Pa district having an RT-PCR test before taking a flight back home.
She said the process of having Covid-19 tests in Thailand is not complicated, with the first time being at the airport with the result coming back very quickly and the last one at the local hospital.
"We are quite confident about the disease-prevention measures in Thailand, making me be sure that I will be safe while staying here. I have no problem with the process as it is easy to follow the guidelines," she said.
The Andaman Medical Centre has been offering RT-PCR tests for tourists who need to test negative before taking flights back home. This is mandatory under aviation restrictions to control the spread of Covid. The centre can carry out 60 tests a day with the result coming within 24 hours. The cost is 2,400 baht per case. It plans to expand capacity if more tourists arrive.
Dr Songkran Junmunee, director of Takua Pa Hospital who is in charge of the centre, said it was not only developed for emergency treatment and transfer of patients, including tourists for medical treatment, but amid the Covid-19 crisis, it became an RT-PCR test unit.
He said the centre welcomed any walk-in tourists or registered tourists for RT-PCR tests. For registration, tourists need to make a reservation through the hotel where they are staying. Tourists can get their test results on paper which they can pick up by themselves or have them sent via email.
Established in 2018, the Andaman Medical Centre was set up to provide quick medical treatment to patients, especially foreign tourists to prevent loss of life from delays. The number of patients increased from 8,690 in fiscal year 2018 to 11,393 in fiscal year 2021.
Dr Songkran said 25% of patients are foreigners who have become sick or have got involved in accidents at sea.
Deputy Minister of Public Health Sathit Pitutecha said the massive Covid-19 vaccination programme in the country is one of the major factors keeping the number of daily infections low.
Other factors include strict measures to prevent disease transmission by business operators under a Covid-free setting with solid cooperation from all public health volunteers nationwide.
"If everything goes well with the plan, we will see more tourists who want to celebrate their life during New Year and even the Songkran festival in Thailand. We hope that next year we can resume the country's signature water festival if there are no more big clusters," he said.
Chayabol Hirankanokkul, president of the Phangnga Tourism Association, hoped the tourism business will get back to normal by early next year, judging from the increase in advance room bookings. Around 50% of rooms are already booked for next month, he said.
He said tour operators are now ready to welcome tourists by complying with the ministry's safety measures against Covid-19, including having Safety & Health Administration (SHA) and SHA Plus certification.
The association has received support from the Ministry of Tourism and Sports to train tour operators, shop owners and public vehicle drivers on how to achieve SHA and SHA+ standards to ensure safety for visitors, he said.
"All hospitality staff have already received full vaccine doses, including a third jab. They are the first priority to get the vaccine," he said. "We are confident the tourism business can live together with the disease so there is no need to shut down the country again."
According to the association, revenue from tourists is around 54 billion baht a year normally, but during the Covid-19 outbreak, it plunged to 30 million baht.
The majority of tourists arriving now were from Europe and Russia, the association added.