Issue #89 - 10 Takeaways From The Phuket Sandbox: One Year On
“We’ve been getting lots of travellers from India."
Welcome to Issue 89 of Asia Travel Re:Set…
Tourism contributed 12% of Thailand’s economy in 2019, and employed 20% of its workforce.
As the nation’s economy stagnated in 2020 and the first half of 2021, the government and its national and regional tourism authorities hatched a plan to bring back tourists.
The Phuket Sandbox was the result, which launched one year ago this week.
Thailand is now spearheading South East Asia’s tourism revival, with Phuket once again a popular destination.
Most of Thailand’s existing entry requirements were removed on 1 July.
So, let’s check the island’s pulse with the Phuket Hotels Association.
Thanks for being onboard.
NB: Through July and August, the newsletter will be sent out every 2 weeks, rather than weekly. Back to normal on the other side of the (already chaotic) summer holiday season!
The Sunday Itinerary
- “IN THE NEWS”
- 10 Takeaways From The Phuket Sandbox: One Year On
“We’ve been getting lots of travellers from India”
- Positive Vibes in Phuket One Year After the Phuket Sandbox
Tracking the tourism progress with the Phuket Hotels Association
“IN THE NEWS”
One year after Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox commenced the arduous road to revival for South East Asia’s vacation sector, I set out The timeline of Thailand’s tourism recovery in this article for the Asia Media Centre.
On Friday, I delivered a presentation entitled 10 Key Challenges for Aviation and Tourism in ASEAN in the Second Half of 2022 for this FACTS Asia online seminar. The speech, which included exclusive China/South East Asia aviation data from OAG (many thanks to Deirdre Fulton), will be converted into an article. More soon.
10 Takeaways From The Phuket Sandbox: One Year On
Source: Tourism Authority of Thailand
On this week’s The South East Asia Travel Show, we chatted to Sumi Soorian, Executive Director of the Phuket Hotels Association.
Here are 10 takeaways (and quotes) from the interview about Phuket’s tourism outlook.
[NB: For space reasons, this edition features selected extracts only. See the links at the end of this newsletter to listen to the full interview.]
1) The Phuket Sandbox Was a Product of its Time
Thailand reopened Phuket on 1 July 2021 at a time when Covid-19 vaccine rates varied in South East Asia. The Delta Wave was scything through the region. Strict border controls were in place across Asia Pacific, which was mostly shut for inbound and outbound travel. “Putting down the necessary regulations wasn’t easy being the first destination to reopen in South East Asia. It was a brave move, and it took months to draft the regulations for the Phuket Sandbox. There were a lot of guidelines for hotels to be Covid-compliant and certified and to protect staff and guests. We learned a great deal, and over the last year we have tried to ease restrictions whenever we can.”
2) Transition to Test & Go
The Phuket Sandbox was replaced by Thailand’s national Test & Go Scheme on 1 November 2021. “The 14-day (on-island) quarantine was helpful in the beginning of the Phuket Sandbox for the hotels, as well as making sure tourists coming here felt safe and looked after upon arrival. Moving to Test & Go was data driven. We looked at how the statistics for infections were lower, and this gave us a rational basis to reduce the restrictions for travellers and the travel industry.”
3) Regional Tourism Competition Rebooted
Even with the Test & Go scheme in place, visitors needed to apply online for a Thailand Pass, take an on-arrival PCR test and book a one-night hotel stay. Gradually these restrictions were lifted as other South East Asian countries made travel easier. “Different destinations were opening up around us, and we could see the ease of entry in Cambodia, for example. We were the pioneers to open the borders, and we still had all these restrictions in place, so we were just shooting ourselves in the foot. Being competitive with other destinations by dropping restrictions was a great help.”
4) MICE & Weddings Are Back
“Throughout the time we were easing restrictions, we immediately started to see a lot of corporate events coming back to Phuket. Some of these are big groups, plus destination weddings, especially from the Indian market.”
5) Visitor Numbers Are Increasing
Phuket welcomed 1.73 million visitors in the first five months of 2022, of which 132,472 million were domestic travellers, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. This figure is disputed by a Phuket Immigration Daily report which counts 693,705 international arrivals to Phuket from 1 July 2021 to 28 June 2022.
6) Indians Are Arriving
“We’ve been getting lots of travellers from India, and frequency of flights from Indian cities.” The Tourism Authority of Thailand/Phuket Tourist Association will undertake roadshows in India and the Middle East in August. “These are currently our two biggest markets. We’re also seeing a lot Australians, Koreans and Singaporeans.”
7) Russians Are Returning
“We did see the Russian market kind of disappear almost overnight [after the invasion of Ukraine]. Now they are coming back, and at the moment we are seeing more of the high-spend, high-net-worth Russian luxury market.”
8) Chinese Property Buyers
“We’ve seen quite a big influx of Chinese buying property in Phuket, and many are doing that remotely as well. I think a lot are waiting for the borders to reopen so they can finalise those transactions, but a big shift is that many property sales are going through without the Chinese buyers being here.”
9) Occupancy Rising, Booking Windows Shortening
“Demand for travel to Phuket is increasing, although it is still nowhere near where it was pre-pandemic. Our hotels are holding up their rates, and we expect occupancy to reach around 80% among our members next month. This should further increase in Q3 and Q4. One of the trends is that the booking window is getting shorter. More people are leaving planning and booking to the last minute, but for events, weddings and celebrations there is quite a longer window for booking.”
10) Airlift & Human Resource Challenges Ahead
“Airlift is still a challenge for the hospitality sector in Phuket, even though the number of destinations and flight frequencies for inbound travellers have increased. Human resources is also a challenge. Many of our hotels are still working with 40-50% of their intended level of staff. Hotels are also looking at catering to the digital nomad with co-living spaces. Sustainability is a big issue as Covid did set us back a few steps for hygiene reasons where everything had to be cling-wrapped or wrapped in plastics.”
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Positive Vibes in Phuket One Year After the Phuket Sandbox
Sumi discusses how the hospitality and tourism sectors have adapted over the past year. We also discuss shifts in Phuket’s key inbound markets and new trends in meetings, weddings and domestic travel. Plus, we look at human resource challenges for hotels and room rates and occupancy.
Now, as Thailand removes virtually all pandemic restrictions, what is the outlook for Phuket one year after it pioneered the revival of tourism in South East Asia?
Listen to Positive Vibes in Phuket One Year After the Phuket Sandbox, here:
Or search for The South East Asia Travel Show on any podcast platform.
And, that’s a wrap for Issue 89.
Until 17 July, find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, the Asia Travel Re:Set website and The South East Asia Travel Show - where this week we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Travel Talking Points of 2022 So Far.