PHUKET: Tourists have started to return to Bangla Rd, Patong, which has been deemed to be a barometer of how many tourists are in Phuket’s traditionally busiest tourism town, with Patong hotel and restaurant businessman Preechavude ‘Prab’ Keesin this week offering cautious praise and thanks going to the Test & Go tourism scheme.
Test & Go, launched on Nov 1 along with other tourist entry schemes, allows vaccinated tourists to enter Thailand by spending just one night in hotel quarantine while waiting for their COVID test results after landing.
“Patong is already well known as a popular area, but Bangla Rd is like an index that measures how crowded it is,” Mr Prab said this week.
“Most of the customers like that it is mostly open-air, and because it is near the beach,” he added.
Many businesses along the famed nightlife strip have reopened, but there is still a long way to go before Patong truly starts to recover, Mr Prab noted.
“Many of the hotels that have opened are the high-end ones along or near the beachfront. People who have hotels by the sea have an advantage, but most of those in the nooks and crannies in the alleys are still closed. About 20% of businesses have reopened. We need to improve more,” he said.
Mr Prab said hopes were high for large numbers of tourists to return. “But it all depends on the tourists who will come to Phuket. We have reopened to 63 countries [under the Test & Go scheme], but how many people will come?” he posed.
“I hope that it will reach 1 million. It’s a big hope, but I wouldn’t go expecting it,” he added.
The number of tourists who have already arrived are making a difference, Mr Prab said.
The Phuket Reopening Daily Report issued by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) yesterday marked that from Nov 1-18 a total of 13,108 people so far had arrived in Phuket under the Test & Go scheme, compared with 7,278 people who had arrived under the Sandbox scheme.
A further 77 arrivals entered ‘Alternative Quarantine’ while five arrivals were in transit only. Thursday alone (Nov 18) saw 1,132 Test & Go arrivals, along with 566 Sandbox arrivals and five Alternative Quarantine arrivals, all arriving on 11 international flights, marked the report.
As of Thursday a total of 81,063 people had entered the country under the Test & Go scheme since Nov 1, the report noted, a figure that PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has already expressed his satisfaction with.
“We now have employment and the opportunity to do business. It has been quite difficult for quite some time, but our success depends on the government, ourselves, and the community as well, in how strong or how much we fight against the obstacles that arise in this era,” Mr Prab said.
Rising numbers of infections in source market countries, such as Germany, were causing concern, he continued.
“But if we have good protection and have good vaccines, we may be able to restrict the number of infections here, but most importantly. I want to focus more on the perspective of mortality. If there are fewer deaths, then we should be able to relax and be allowed to continue doing business. That is, if we don’t let our guard down,” he said.
After recording 55 COVID deaths in September, officials marked 44 deaths in total in October and so far 13 deaths already this month.
“It is the current understanding that vaccines will not prevent infections. We still have to protect ourselves, wear a protective mask, wear gloves, maintain social distancing, wash our hands with alcohol sanitiser, and so on. Please help us, this is a personal responsibility,” Mr Prab said.
“Most importantly, vaccines are weapons of protection [from serious infections] and we have a good strategy for vaccinating people in the Phuket area, but we shouldn’t be aiming for 70% – we should be aiming for 100%. It’s better to vaccinate as many people as possible, with three injections where possible,” he added.
The number of people in Phuket vaccinated has become one of the key reasons tourists are coming to Phuket, Mr Prab noted.
“When it comes to the decision to travel, it’s not just the number of infections alone. Coming to Phuket, they look at how many people who have been vaccinated here. That’s part of the safety. When an incident occurs, how good is our public health system at the hospital? The most important thing besides that is how much we can open a business to support them. Both the economic recovery and the public health system must go together,” he said.
Thai tourists have become vital for Phuket’s recovery, Mr Prab also noted, as he urged local operators not to raise their prices to levels that will again leave domestic tourists considering Phuket an expensive destination.
“Phuket has to adjust to remember that we must take good care of Thai tourists. That is what we have learned from COVID-19: know how to care for Thai tourists as much as possible. We must provide good service and change our mindset a lot in this regard,” he added.
Mr Prab’s comments came as Deputy Director-General of the Department of Health Dr Kajonsak Kaewjarat earlier this week visited Phuket in person to inspect the COVID prevention measures in effect along Bangla Rd.
Joined by current PPHO Chief Dr Kusak Kiattaikoon and PPHO Deputy Chief Dr Anon Kaewbamr ung, Dr Kajornsak led officials from the Office of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and from the Phuket office of the Department of Disease Control in conducting the inspections.
The purpose of the inspections were to carry out the PPHO campaign to inform patrons and operators of venues of the regulations under the Alcohol Control Act B.E. 2551 and related laws.
The inspection teams also aimed to “raise awareness, recognise and motivate for business owners and the public as well as give advice on various practices to comply with COVID-19 prevention and control measures”, the report added.
The PPHO report marked no infections at any of the venues inspected, and reported no breaches of any laws or regulations of any kind.
However, The Phuket News over the weekend was informed of a cluster of eight infections at one “restaurant” on Bangla Rd, where the infected have been asked to stay at home.