Thailand takes first stride towards tourism recovery through Phuket Sandbox reopening
Travelers looking forward to tropical island vacations can rejoice. Phuket is welcoming all fully vaccinated travelers to visit without quarantine requirements starting July 1, 2021.
Under the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ program, fully vaccinated foreign visitors are required to stay in ‘SHA+’ certified accommodations in Phuket and must show proof of booking at such establishments when applying for the Certificate of Entry into Thailand. The SHA+ certificate is awarded to hotel operators and businesses who not only meet the Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration (SHA) standards, but also have at least 70% of their staff vaccinated against COVID-19.
Ready to Welcome Travelers
Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao Phuket, Wyndham Sea Pearl Resort Phuket and Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay have received their SHA+ certification and are ready to welcome guests.
"Our members have been scheduling their vacations far ahead in hopes of travelling as soon as flights and international borders reopen," said Paul Mulcahy, Managing Director for RCI APAC, India & EMEA. "It is great to see that most of our affiliated properties in Phuket are SHA+ certified and we are working closely together with them to fulfill our members’ travel needs."
To support inbound travel and tourism recovery in Thailand, RCI is offering new travel products for its members including Hotel Exchange and Enhanced Exchange Protection, both launched during the COVID-19 pandemic.
RCI’s Hotel Exchange allows members to use their trading power or points to book discounted stays at over 600,000 hotels worldwide, including in Phuket. Members can book stays at multiple hotels for the period of their vacation, in addition to resort stays.
RCI Members can also have peace of mind for their booking with Enhanced Exchange Protection, which allows them to cancel their exchange booking – for any reason at all – up to 2 business days before their check-in date.
Wyndham Sea Pearl Resort Phuket and Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay have reopened since July 2020 with Wyndham Destinations’ Vacation ReadyTM enhanced resort cleaning protocols in place.
File photo of Wyndham Sea Pearl Phuket.
"It is exciting after a year to have the borders to Phuket open again to welcome our international guests," said Dominic Egger, General Manager for Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay. "It has been a difficult time for our island -- and Thailand as a whole -- and we are eagerly but cautiously awaiting to see the island blooming again with activity and guests relaxing on the beautiful beaches."
"We have gone through Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration Certification Plus (SHA+) and international Hotel Resilient’s COVID-Ready certification, besides the Wyndham Destinations COVID Protocols. Through the past year we have embedded these practices into our daily routine and after a year these processes and cleaning protocols have become habits." Egger added.
Lyndon Ellis, General Manager of Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao Phuket, also welcomes the move. "It is great that the first tourist destination in Southeast Asia to open under a "vaccinated tourist" scheme is Phuket!" he said. "We have been operating under strict protocols set out by Thailand's Ministry of Public Health for some time and we are also certified SHA+."
Two Bedroom Pool Villa at Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao Phuket.(Image Courtesy of Anantara Vacation Club)
Visiting Phuket and rest of Thailand
With the exception of children under six, all vaccinated travelers visiting Phuket will be required to display of a negative PCR test within 72 hours before travelling to Phuket, along with a valid visa and a certificate of entry from the Thai embassy, and travel insurance for COVID-19 coverage. Travelers must also download a contact-tracing app, ‘ThailandPlus’ upon arrival.
Visitors can expect a refreshed island paradise with fewer crowds, making Phuket a perfect holiday destination for travelers to unwind and enjoy the beauty of nature.
"Once you are here on the island it is business as usual, and apart from mandatory masks you have all the freedom as your prior visits to Phuket," Ellis said. "Expect rejuvenated beaches and lesser crowds."
Egger recommends going on a 'natural rehabilitation' during this year. "Diving is just fantastic with the marine life back in full force on the reefs. It is a great time to visit Phuket at current, as the sea has good waves and surfing is back in Kata, Kalim and Kamala."
Travelers planning to visit other destinations in Thailand would be able to do so upon fulfilling a 14-stay requirement in Phuket. They will be required to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival, a second test on day six and a third one on day 13 before those who test negative are allowed to travel to the rest of the country.
"With international travel we are already seeing longer stays," Egger added. "The 14 days do have to be in a SHA+ hotel but it does not have to be the same hotel for the duration of the stay."
Since the Phuket Sandbox announcement, Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao Phuket has seen its average length of stay for July bookings go up to 6.5 days, up from the usual 3.5 days.
RCI affiliated resorts in other parts of Thailand are waiting for tourism demand arising from the Phuket Sandbox to ramp up before reopening. For instance, Karma Apsara in Koh Samui is scheduled to reopen in September 2021.
Despite all the inconveniences brought about by the COVID-19 precautions, travelers are not deterred and have already secured their bookings since the announcement of the reopening plans.
RCI saw significant pent-up travel demand from its members and is working with RCI affiliated resorts to fulfil their members’ travel needs.
"According to a recent survey done with our members, one of the top reason they would like to travel is to reconnect with family and loved ones," said Mulcahy. "Since majority of their accommodations have been already paid for through their vacation ownership, we believe that of all travelers, they will be the first to start travelling again."
Wyndham Kalim Bay is already seeing inbound traveler bookings from Israel, UAE, parts of Europe, and the U.S. Anantara Vacation Club Mai Khao Phuket is seeing majority of its inbound guests coming from the Middle East and Europe, with just 25% from domestic Thai travelers.
All Eyes on Phuket
The Phuket Sandbox plan serves as a "pilot" reopening program and if proven effective, the program could be replicated in other tourism hotspots in Thailand, such as Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Koh Samui. Other popular destinations in consideration for the program include Krabi, Phangnga, Chon Buri, Bangkok, Cha-am district of Phetchaburi, Hua Hin district of Prachuap Khiri Khan and Buri Ram.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thailand plans to reopen to foreign visitors in '120 days', acknowledging that it would be a calculated risk necessary for the economic needs and livelihood of the people. According to Deputy Provincial Governor Mr Phichet Panaphong, approximately 129,000 foreigners are expected to visit Phuket under the Sandbox program, which will generate a projected 11.4 billion baht in income for the island.
Thailand's economy suffered its worst full-year performance since the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, with officials citing the gutted tourism industry and ongoing political upheaval as main reasons. Thailand’s Secretary General of the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) Danucha Pichayanan said that the management of the outbreak and vaccine procurement and rollout, together with tourism recovery would be the main economic factors for this year.
"We are starting to see leisure travel returning, with Thailand being the first country in Asia to reopen to international visitors without quarrantine," Mulcahy added. "We look forward to seeing other countries adopting similar models to reopen their borders to international guests and to support the recovery of tourism in the Asia Pacific region."
- The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), in collaboration with the public and private sector partners, introduced the “Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration: SHA” certification on May 26, 2020, in an effort to prepare tourism establishments for the return of travel through reinforcing health and safety standards, and to boost tourism confidence amongst holidaymakers.
- On 5 June, 2021, the Phuket provincial government has introduced the SHA+ Certificate, which is awarded to hotel operators and businesses who not only meet the SHA standards, but also have at least 70% of their staff vaccinated against COVID-19.