Pattaya Sandbox idea still needs a whole lot of detail

Sandbox initiatives are Thailand’s chosen route for a tourist boom.

Under current Thai government policy, Pattaya is scheduled to reopen for international tourism on October 1, less than four months ahead. That is when overseas foreigners, who are fully vaccinated, will be able to visit certain holiday locations in Thailand without the need for quarantine. The Sandbox policy will be piloted in Phuket starting on July 1, but specifics are still very thin on the ground.

Pattaya Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome says that one million vaccine jabs are required for Chonburi province to ensure that 70 percent herd immunity is achieved prior to the hoped-for influx. Even Phuket, which has the earlier Sandbox starting date, has so far managed to inoculate only about a quarter of the island’s population. In Greater Pattaya the work has barely begun as vaccines are still in very short supply.

International flights are increasing, but is Thailand on the list?

Pattaya area residents also include over 100,000 foreigners, mostly labourers from neighboring countries, but including expats with work permits or holding one year extensions of stay for retirement or family reasons. Many farang report being in touch with private hospitals about paying to jump the queue. Basically they have been told “no news yet.”

Phuket is an island and checks on arrivals and quitters not that hard to organize. Pattaya, of course, has escape routes a-plenty and it is not clear how tourists would be restricted to the Pattaya, Jomtien and Naklua districts. The government has ruled out ankle bracelets to avoid the comparison with paroled prisoners. The answer is presumably a locator app. such as ThailandPlus being promoted by Thai embassies abroad, but currently without official follow-up once visitors arrive.

A tracking app will be a compulsory requirement for holiday tourists to Thailand.

Neither the Thai tourist authorities nor the immigration bureau has yet clarified what entry documentation will be required under the Sandbox scheme. Presumably the local Thai embassy will need to scrutinize the paperwork which might include verification of completed vaccination, Covid-related insurance, some kind of visa or permission, proof of address in Thailand and so on. The days of travelling internationally to Thailand with just an air ticket and a passport are ancient history, but the alternative bureaucracies to deal with anticipated mass travel are still a mystery.

A key concern for Pattaya is what Sandbox visitors would do once here. At present, all bars and clubs are closed and entertainment largely restricted to having a meal in an alcohol-free environment and jogging near (not on) the beach or next to the cycling tracks at the local reservoirs. Deckchairs, massages and loud music are all outlawed. For all restrictions to be removed, local virus infections must be zero on a daily basis according to the Thai tourist ministry.

A final consideration is the sheer expense of travelling to Thailand. Compared with the pre-pandemic era there are all sorts of extras such as Covid insurance, pre-departure tests and – until rescinded of course – a 15 night quarantine in a Thai hotel on arrival. Meanwhile, air tickets will likely rise in price along with demand assuming there is any. Jason Harrington, a UK Corporate Travel consultant, said, “Even without quarantine costs, you can certainly add around one thousand pounds to the cost of a vacation in Thailand in 2021 compared with 2019.”