Hoteliers in Phuket are preparing to offer hotel isolation for asymptomatic guests to keep the island's reopening operational despite a spike in Omicron infections as more guests refuse to pay for pricey hospital beds.
Kongsak Khoopongsakorn, president of the Thai Hotels Association's southern chapter, said hoteliers face obstacles in transferring their guests to hospitals. Some local hospitals lack sufficient bed capacity, while some tourists refuse hospital stays because their illness is not severe, he said.
As some Omicron cases are asymptomatic, this means certain travel insurance schemes do not cover such medical costs. Tourists are reluctant to pay a deposit of around 100,000 baht for a hospital bed in Phuket, said Mr Kongsak.
He said it is important for travellers to receive proper medical treatment, but hotel operators cannot force them to go to the hospital. Hotels do not have the authority to do so and such action could harm tourism sentiment, said Mr Kongsak.
Hotel isolation could be a solution to this problem, reducing the risk of Covid patients roaming around without treatment, he said.
As of Jan 3, Phuket recorded a surge of 149 new daily infections, of which 21 came from the sandbox programme and 14 from the Test & Go scheme. Hospital bed occupancy stood at 28% or 546 of 1,952 beds.
More than 50 hotels have offered in excess of 500 total rooms that could serve as isolation facilities, said Mr Kongsak.
Hotels with more than 100 rooms will spare 10% of capacity for guests who opt for hotel rooms rather than field hospitals. Under hotel isolation, operators can create a monitoring system to prevent early checkout before the isolation period ends, he said.
"Hotel isolation is the solution for Phuket to receive tourists without imposing rigid measures, which will hurt the industry even more," Mr Kongsak said.
He said the occupancy rate in January is expected to be 30-40% with a small number of cancellations. Hoteliers are more concerned with bookings in February and March, with occupancy at only 10% because of the Omicron variant and tighter possible restrictions.
If Omicron is contained within the first two weeks of January, the outlook for the first quarter will brighten, said Mr Kongsak. A booster programme requiring a fourth dose of mRNA vaccines and regular ATK tests every three days for workers is vital, he said.