PETALING JAYA (June 16): The plan to reopen the popular tourist island of Phuket in Thailand could serve as an example for other holiday destinations in Asia to relax their borders and attract visitors, said Banyan Tree Holdings executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping in an interview with Bloomberg on June 14.

“Every government is beginning to feel around on how to open up, and the Phuket Sandbox is really a viable way now because even the travel bubbles that people talked about didn’t take place.

“It’s the first time anywhere east of the Maldives that you have a country with this population size with such a low vaccination rate actually opening up to the rest of the world," said Ho.

According to a report by Bloomberg today, Thailand is looking to allow quarantine-free travel for Covid-19 vaccinated tourists (and not originating from high-risk countries) to Phuket from July 1, a first in more than a year.

The "Phuket Sandbox'' plan is dependent on the achievement of at least 70% vaccination rate among the island's residents.

The rate is now at about 60% after a concerted push to get locals vaccinated. It is significantly higher than that of the country's tally of 5%. 

Nevertheless, Ho welcomes the plan, saying islands are the best place to start as they are more isolated. “You can control it ... If you have an infection rate going up, you clamp down, you protect the rest of the country," he said, adding that the plan (if successful) could be extended to other islands such as Indonesia's Bali, China's Hainan province or Vietnam's Phu Quoc, for instance. 

The success should be based on a "gradual" increase in arrivals rather than the numbers just after the island reopens, said Ho, who made note that only a few hundred visitors are expected in July.

Meanwhile, final details of the plan are expected to be approved by Thailand’s Covid-19 task force on Friday, with Cabinet approval likely next week.

Should the plan be successful, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said it could be replicated in other tourist hot spots in Thailand, such as Chiang Mai and Koh Samui.

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