Economic gurus say that Thailand’s Sandbox proposal to reopen the country to foreign tourists in coming months is extremely ambitious. The idea is to offer vacations without quarantine to vaccinated foreigners from July 1 in Phuket and from October 1 in Pattaya and several other tourist-friendly locations. The Tourist Authority of Thailand’s latest website remains confident about the Sandbox timetable.
But Singapore-based Barclays Bank economists Brian Tan and Shreya Sodhani, in a new report, say that the recent surge in numbers of reported infections in Thailand will likely lead to delays in reopening. “In our base case, we think Phuket will reopen for tourism in September, followed by a few more provinces in December. We expect Bangkok to be reopened last, and only late next year,” they wrote.
Thai authorities are aiming to administer one shot of the vaccine to 70 percent of its population, plus foreign residents, by September according to Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. But critics say that a mass immunization programme has hardly begun, whilst the country has been forced to secure vaccines from multiple brands after a new Covid-19 outbreak has seen cases quadruple and fatalities increase six-fold since the beginning of April.
Boonanan Pattanasin, president of the Pattaya Business and Tourism Association, said that the current rate of vaccination in the Pattaya area was too slow to achieve the 70 percent baseline by the end of September. Although there has recently been a decline in the number of coronavirus cases in Pattaya itself – now numbering around 15-20 daily – the key to reopening the city is vaccination. But supplies were hard to obtain, with the priority being Bangkok where clusters of virus variants are still being discovered.
Meanwhile travel agents round the world say the confusion around Sandbox is restricting interest in travel to Thailand. Marc Jouvet, spokesman for Pacific Area Travel, said, “People want to know if the beaches and entertainment facilities will soon reopen. There is no point in admitting holidaymakers if they are faced with padlocks on places they want to visit.”
Manchester-based travel agent Hugh West said, “The British grading of travel destinations using traffic light colours has been a disaster with ministers giving different accounts of what they mean.” He said the most important things for Thai authorities were to simplify the complex entry and visa regulations and to “let us know when the pubs in Pattaya reopen.”