BANGKOK -- Thailand plans to allow vaccinated foreigners to visit the southern resort island of Phuket without quarantining on arrival in a step toward reviving the country's big but battered tourism industry.
Starting in April, the country also is shortening the quarantine period for arrivals from abroad to 10 days from 14.
The plan for Phuket is set to begin on July 1, and if judged successful, may include other popular destinations such as Samui Island, Krabi, Pattaya and Chiang Mai in October, said Yuthasak Supasor, head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The government’s Center for Economic Situation Administration, chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, approved the Phuket plan on Friday. It still needs final approval from Phuket’s governor and the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration. Thailand last year repeatedly canceled various reopening plans as the pandemic expanded abroad.
Part of the plan to institute what is being called a “tourism sandbox” involves inoculating at least 450,000, or 70%, of Phuket’s residents before the July reopening. The inoculations are expected to begin in April.
If all goes smoothly, it is hoped that around 100,000 tourists can be welcomed in the third quarter of the year.
Before the pandemic, Phuket was the country’s second-most popular destination after Bangkok. In 2019, it welcomed around 10 million foreign tourists and generated 470 billion baht ($15 billion) in revenue.
According to the Phuket Hotel Association, more than 50,000 employees in its hospitality sector lost their jobs last year.
Thailand’s economy was severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Prayuth said Friday that thanks to his government’s financial stimulus package and vaccination plans, he is is optimistic that the country can achieve 4% GDP growth this year, compared to a 6.1% contraction in 2020.