Local shop owners and entrepreneurs in Phuket mutually agreed that the Phuket Sandbox, a program to attract foreign vaccinated tourists, did not help domestic tourism and small business owners since it first launched in July.
Local reporters yesterday, September 16th, have interviewed multiple area shopkeepers in Old Phuket Town on Thalang Road regarding the tourism situation after the Phuket Sandbox has been applied to welcome vaccinated foreigners for more than two months.
All of them spoke in unison that the island is still very quiet with almost no tourists at all. Even if there are tourists, most of them will usually come to appreciate the neighborhood and rarely purchase things.
A representative of local business operators told reporters: “Now, we see some tour guides who bring tourists from the Phuket Sandbox Project to travel to Phuket Old Town but only on certain days, not every day. These are also often “guided” tours based around seeing the architecture and area and not actually allowing visitors to roam shops.”
“The overall situation in the city and in Phuket Old Town is still concerning with a quiet atmosphere and no tourists. Entrepreneurs can’t sell their products. Phuket Sandbox does not really improve tourism in the area. The atmosphere is quiet due to the government not allowing alcohol in restaurants, music, and other things tourists want on holiday.”
“Some big and powerful businesses and resorts may get some benefits from the sandbox, but not us. Plus, the current pandemic situation in the area is still ongoing, making the tourism atmosphere becomes quieter. Entertainment and nightlife are still shut by government mandate, despite high vaccination numbers, also hurting the number of tourists and businesses that can open. When these businesses were allowed to open, it helps all the other businesses and markets in the area with lively and exciting engagement. However, the government still won’t let them open.”
Small business owners also spoke negatively of what they say are constantly changing travel rules around domestic tourism and visitors from around Thailand, stating the rules being overly strict and constantly changing prohibit people already in Thailand from visiting, further hurting the economy.
The Thai Government has continually spoken about the benefits of the Sandbox and overall money being brought it, but according to small shop and retail owners, most of this is applied to SHA+ hotels, Covid-19 testing, and high-end “big business” and not the smaller retailers that really need it.
The current hope from small business owners on Phuket is that the island will be approved by the Thai Government to “completely” open by December, a proposal which calls for removal of multiple expensive Covid-19 tests after arrival and restrictions on where one can stay. Additionally, business owners want every sector-including nightlife, always popular with tourists-open and available for customers. Business owners also want fewer restrictions for domestic visitors and less paperwork, like the hated COE (Certificate of Entry) for foreign visitors. So far, the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, or CCSA, has not officially commented on or reviewed the proposal, nor have they promised to do so.
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