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Asia Minute: Thailand struggles to boost tourism

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)

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a relatively quiet one for many people. But for some tourist destinations, it’s a crucial period for business. In one Southeast Asian country, months of careful planning have run into unforeseen developments.

Even before Omicron, Thailand’s beach resorts faced uncertain prospects for the year-end holidays.

Peak travel season for international visitors to Thailand is usually between November and February —- but of course, these times are anything but usual.

This year, the country’s tourism industry started preparations for year-end global visitors back in the middle of the summer.

In July, Phuket kicked off its “sandbox” campaign — opening to fully vaccinated international travelers who would stay on the resort island for two weeks.

The idea was, as one marketing pitch put it, to “quarantine safely in paradise.”

The government said more than 80% of the local population was fully vaccinated by the time visitors started to arrive.

Three weeks ago, management consultants McKinsey and Company reported that the Phuket Sandbox brought a “moderate economic uplift.”

By November, Thailand fully opened its borders to international visitors under more streamlined rules.

But just last week, the country suspended its program of quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travelers.

Now everyone goes to quarantine — the length of your stay there depends on the severity of the virus in the place you’re coming from.

The government says the new restrictions will last through at least Jan. 4.

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