Phuket’s push for foreign visitors

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Phuket’s push for foreign visitors

Severely affected by Covid-19, island tourism can still recover

An almost empty Patong beach earlier this week. Before the outbreak, Phuket welcomed 15 million tourists per year. (Photo by Apinya Wipatayotin)

Phuket has been hit hard by Covid-19’s impact on its tourism, but can still look at the economic challenge as a golden opportunity to develop its own basic infrastructure, says Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

This would help the province pursue its goal of being a global centre for the hospitality business in the post-pandemic era, he said.

Speaking after a recent meeting with diplomats from Asian and European countries who are based in Phuket, Mr Don said the province will still be able to welcome a large number of tourists as soon as the Covid-19 situation improves.

This is because Phuket has pristine natural resources, accommodation facilities and local hospitality.

Phuket has the potential to go further than being just an ordinary tourist destination. The province could model itself as a global centre for conferences and water sports. However, he admitted the kingdom lacks infrastructure to support such activities.

“All consuls have shared a similar point of view that Phuket has the potential to make [the global centre idea] happen,” Mr Don said.

“[But] it cannot be done without a network of infrastructure such as a local transport system and water supply.

“They also want the government to get rid of the mafia problem in the country,” he said during a mobile cabinet meeting on the Phuket earlier this week.

The ministry invited the foreign diplomats for a discussion on economic stimulus measures to revive the province’s tourism sector, which has been hit by Covid-19.

During their meeting, suggestions were raised based on the province’s multicultural perspective and national marine resources.

The diplomats agreed that a local transport system should be developed to provide services to tourists. They also said the province should be designated as a training centre for hospitality businesses.

Those suggestions were raised by the representatives of Austria, Nepal, Netherlands, South Korea, Russia, Mexico, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, UK, Brazil and Luxemburg, the minister said.

In addition, Mr Don said the country should refrain from focusing on the number of tourists it can attract, but their quality instead, adding the ministry has been working with various agencies to improve the country’s economy during the post-Covid-19 period.

The ministry has issued special tourist visas to foreigners who come from countries recording low Covid-19 figures, including China.

About 200 Chinese nationals have been issued with the government’s Special Tourist Visa, which grants a person the right to stay in the country for a long period. However, only a few Chinese tourists have come to Thailand as a result of China’s domestic tourism campaign.

Tanee Sangrat, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, admitted the number of tourist arrivals is still behind the kingdom’s target. However, he said discussions on how to attract tourists are ongoing.

“We have been aware of the issue and we are working with a related agency to provide more lucrative packages to tourists for when the Covid-19 situation improves,” Mr Tanee said.

“We do hope to get more tourists from Scandinavia joining our visa scheme if the countries have few infection cases.”

About 40 million people visited Thailand in 2019, with about 10 million of them hailing from China.

Phuket used to welcome about 15 million tourists per year, but because of Covid-19, the number of visitors dropped to only 25,596 from March to October with about 14,000 expats asking to enter the country.

A shop manager on Phuket who barely has customers said the state’s current push for domestic tourism could help her maintain her business.

“It is a good policy to encourage local travel, but it can’t compare with income from foreign tourists,” she said. “We don’t think the tourism industry will resume any time soon because outbreaks can still be found in Europe.”