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Asia Minute: 'Phuket Sandbox' moves to a new phase

In this Wednesday, July 7, 2021, photo, tourist Liron Or, second from left, from Israel, and her family enjoy their vacation on Patong Beach Phuket, southern Thailand. (AP Photo/Tiwa Suvarnabhanu)
Tiwa Suvarnabhanu/AP
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AP
In this Wednesday, July 7, 2021, photo, tourist Liron Or, second from left, from Israel, and her family enjoy their vacation on Patong Beach Phuket, southern Thailand. (AP Photo/Tiwa Suvarnabhanu)

Thailand is among the Pacific locations opening a bit more to visitors. The international tourism industry is a critical part of the country’s economy — and some regions are starting to ease restrictions — but not eliminate them.

Thailand’s Phuket Island is a working experiment for the visitor industry — not just for that country, but for many tourism markets in Southeast Asia.

And it’s moving into a new phase.

Planning began back in the spring — vaccinating local residents working in the visitor industry on Phuket.

That vaccination level is now above 70% on the island — more than double the national rate.

In July, the Thai government rolled out an approach it called the “Phuket Sandbox” — a pilot program designed to gradually open tourism.

It started with vaccinated domestic travelers being allowed to stay in the beachside resorts that had been vacant during the pandemic — with a reduced quarantine period.

Arrivals fell short of the target numbers, but the local government says it led to nearly $50 million in revenue over the first two months.

Less than 1% of the visitors tested positive for COVID-19.

Starting this month, that program is now open to international visitors who have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks.

Late last week, the Tourism Authority of Thailand forecast a million foreign visitors will come to Phuket over the next six months — in stages.

That cautious approach is being watched carefully in the region — and several governments are trying their own version of the sandbox plan — including Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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