We need whatever tourism boost we can get

PHUKET: The new “eased” entry measures for international tourists to come into effect today (May 1) have seen hopes of a start to the recovery of Phuket’s tourism industry, and hence the whole island’s economy, finally resurface.

Among the last of the Test & Go tourists ready to board their SHA+ vans at Phuket airport earlier this week. Photo: TAC Phuket

The new entry requirements are a send-off for the Test & Go scheme, which was lauded to bring much economic relief to the battered tourism industry, but failed to deliver on those promises.

As repeated by Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew earlier this week, Phuket’s tourism income was crushed by the COVID-prevention policies. Tourism revenues for the island plunged by 96%. The only average income figure recognised by Phuket officials throughout the pandemic is B1,900 per person per month, announced mid-last year. Although not confirmed officially, that figure is very likely to have increased, but not by much.

Initially touted to bring 1 million tourists to Thailand in the first quarter of this year, as of yesterday the Sandbox and Test & Go schemes combined have brought to Phuket just over 500,000 international visitors, including Thais returning home, expats and business travellers, since Nov 1. That is less than one “tourist” per person living on the island in the past six months, on an island dependent on tourism.

And so finally decisions to ease measures are being rolled out as policy only one week – not two, three or four – after the decision has been announced. Oddly, this weekend’s easing of entry restrictions for Thailand by some coincidence comes as both Singapore and even fearful Malaysia are rolling back their entry restrictions; Singapore earlier this week, and Malaysia also today (May 1).

To many people’s distress, the Thailand Pass system remains, widely blamed for deterring many potential tourists from wanting to travel to Thailand. Yet noises are already being made to have that barrier to entry lifted by June 1.

At this stage, it looks like Thailand is finally heading in the right direction to actually welcome tourists to visit the country. Any barriers to entry must be removed if there is to be any chance of an actual tourism recovery to begin.

No one is expecting a mad rush, although the number of arrivals has spiked in recent days – over 3,000 on Friday (Apr 29) – as if in anticipation of the new eased measures coming into effect. That is a good sign.

Any increase in the number of tourists coming to Phuket is still much-needed, regardless of whatever distractions are played out in the headlines by officials. Right now even a pre-COVID low season would be very much welcome, especially considering the current state of economies around the world. We need to take whatever tourism boost we can get.

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