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Asia Minute: 'Phuket Sandbox' Tourism Pilot Gets Underway in Thailand

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

In a little more than a week, travelers who are vaccinated for COVID-19 won’t need to take a test before coming to Hawai‘i. This week, a tourism experiment of a different kind gets underway in Thailand.

If you’re fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and are looking for a different island to visit, you could consider the biggest one in Thailand: Phuket.

This week, the island will open to international tourists, but with several requirements.

You have to come from a country judged to be at low or medium risk for coronavirus—the United States qualifies.

You also need to test negative before you arrive, and have more than US$100,000 in travel insurance.

And you can’t go anywhere else in the country for two weeks.

Thailand’s government has gone to great lengths to set up this pilot program for tourism, which it calls “Phuket Sandbox.”

Tourism officials say more than 75% of the island’s population has been vaccinated—while the rate for the rest of the country is below 4%.

The stakes are high for Thailand where the virus is spiking but where tourism is a crucial piece of the economy.

In 2019, the country hosted nearly 40 million foreign visitors, about a quarter of them coming from China.

The Tourism Council of Thailand said this week that the country has lost more than half a million tourism jobs in the second quarter of this year alone.

If the Phuket project is successful, the government plans to expand it elsewhere in the country.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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