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

Coronavirus Thailand Phuket
Tiwa Suvarnabhanu/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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