The much hyped “Phuket Sandbox Model”, planned to start on July 1st, seems to be the first glimmer of hope for the island’s or arguably the country’s tourism industry, which is struggling to survive.
The term “sandbox” might be confusing because it can be interpreted in many ways and the public might not be familiar with business jargon let alone when we are dealing with a new CoViD-related glossary on an almost daily basis.
What is “Phuket Sandbox” Does it have to do with the destination being an island After all, by definition, a sandbox is a box that contains sand for children to play in. But in this case it’s a metaphor referring to “a controlled environment supervised by a regulatory authority within which existing regulations are relaxed or removed to allow businesses to more freely experiment with new products and services”. In other words, Phuket, with the geographical advantage of being an island and presumably easier to control and contain the virus, will be a testing ground for the opening up of the Thai tourism industry. If successful, the so-called sandbox model will be applied at other tourist destinations from October onwards.
After fine-tuning the balance between public health and the economy, conditional approval by the National Communicable Diseases will see the island able to receive tourists who are fully vaccinated 14 days before traveling to Thailand. The vaccine they received must be recognized and approved by the World Health Organization or WHO and they can only arrive from certain countries where the CoViD-19 situation is under control or the number of infections is moderate or low. Tourists will also be required to have a CoViD-free certificate issued within the 72 hours of arriving in the country. There will be a CoViD-check upon arrival followed by another two tests on day 7 and day 14.
Travelers are encouraged to stay at SHA+ hotels. SHA is the stamp of approval by the Tourism Authority of Thailand for the premise’s safety and health standards and “plus” means all the staff at the hotel have already been vaccinated. Visiting tourists must stay on the island, quarantine-free, for two weeks before being allowed to roam anywhere in the country, with the condition of having negative CoViD tests of course.
The timeline for the Phuket Sandbox to be fully materialized is as followed.
Friday June 18, 2021 The CCSA or the Center for CoViD-19 Situation Administration will assess and approve the standard operation procedures (SOPs) before submitting to the cabinet for a final approval on June 22, 2021. The final step will be publication in the Royal Gazette which is expected to be announced during the last week of June 2021, just in time for the July 1st, 2021 kick off.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has been instrumental in making sure the model works by conducting workshops with operators on the island during the whole month of June to ensure smooth and safe operation. It has set a target of attracting 129,000 tourists between July and September, generating revenue of around THB 11.4 billion, yet the challenges remain.
Phuket is an island, yes, nut “No Man is an Island”. Success of the sandbox model relies heavily on tourists who might be reluctant to accept being stranded on the island for 14 days or fear of having to be quarantined in their home country upon their return. Not to mention the fact that not every single country can be certain of the characteristics of the disease, especially unknown variants, or even the speed of infections which blurs the line separating the highly-infected countries and low or moderately-infected countries that Thailand aims to recruit the tourists from. Last but not least, single command and poor communication from the host agencies involved could turn the miracle sandbox into a Pandora’s Box but let’s hope for the best as the success of Phuket Sandbox will shed light on other destinations that equally need the tourism income lifeline.