Phuket, Thailand Opens Doors to Vaccinated Tourists

Dreaming of travel? More and more countries are reopening to travelers. And now, Thailand is the latest to make plans to reopen to visitors.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has announced that vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries will be allowed to fly directly to Phuket starting July 1. As of this writing, TAT has not released its list of which countries are considered safe.

They're calling the opening the "Phuket Sandbox" program and touting it as attractive because tourists will not be required to quarantine. While a leader with TAT says they're expecting around 129,000 visitors to the island between July and September of 2021, it is important to know what to expect.

Still fighting the virus

As more countries -- like Ireland -- begin to open their borders to visitors, attention shifts to how many active cases of COVID-19 they continue to face. Thailand is fighting its third wave of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths.

On June 10, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported more than 2,300 new cases. In addition, nearly 47,000 Thais remain hospitalized with the virus, and about 47,000 more are in isolation or receiving treatment. Despite the recent influx of sick patients, TAT insists the island will open to tourists as scheduled.

That's not to say no one should visit Thailand, but it's important to know what you may be facing. The number of sick could impact things usually taken for granted, like the number of healthy employees available to serve in restaurants and clean hotel rooms.

Vaccine requirement

International tourists will be required to prove that they have been fully vaccinated, although children under six are welcome without vaccination.

Travel restrictions

All tourists are free to travel the island but must stay for a minimum of seven days before traveling anywhere else in Thailand.

Importance of tourism

The lack of tourism has been devastating for Thailand. So much so that the government has decided to allow residents living in Phuket to jump to the head of the line and get vaccinated before most of the country's population. While only 4% of Thais have been vaccinated thus far, the government plans to vaccinate 70% to 80% of Phuket residents before the July 1 reopening.

The primary reason for the expedited vaccination of island residents is that Phuket is the most popular tourist destination in a country desperately in need of tourism dollars. Before the pandemic, money spent by foreign tourists made up 11% to 12% of Thailand's gross domestic product (GDP).

In addition to the loss of 1.45 million jobs due to the pandemic, only 6.7 million tourists visited Thailand in 2020. To put that in perspective, Thailand typically welcomes around 40 million foreign tourists. With a fraction of the tourism they usually receive, spending fell from $61 billion to $11 billion -- a shortfall the country continues to grapple with.

If you go

If you're one of the 100,000 tourists the Thai government hopes will visit Phuket this year, you can check into a luxury pool villa directly on the beach with a private terrace for less than $80 per night. In terms of luxury for less, that's a tough price to beat.

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