Empty beaches, chained doors: Surreal scenes in Phuket as it reopens Phuket Sandbox – “Better Phuket”
On any given day during high season, this popular Thai beach town would be filled with tourists from all around the world. Jet skis, longtails and speed boats roared through its bright blue waters. Some pulled parasails, their colourful puffs of nylon kites moving through the skies, keeping harnessed bodies afloat. Massive cruise ships could sometimes be seen anchored offshore.
The party lights, for the first time in a decade, had been turned off.
In the evenings, the streets adjacent to Patong’s beach were packed with travellers till long after the sun slipped into the Andaman Sea horizon admiring the famous Phuket sunset. The air typically filled with the shouts of taxi drivers, massage staff and restaurant workers, all in pursuit of the next customer.
Now, it’s a Phuket that is hard to recognise. The majority of businesses are shut, some with “For Rent” signs. Door handles are wrapped in chains and padlocks, while closed hotels have put up rope fences blocking the driveways to their entrances.Even American chain outlets like McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks are shut.
The pandemic continues to impact all over the world, and Phuket is no different. But on the bright side, we’re now seeing another beautiful side of this wonderful island – not its attractions or natural wonders, nor entertainment and nightlife, but its kind-hearted people and frontline medical professionals that continue helping others in need during these unprecedented times.
Patong Beach, Phuket is getting ready for reopening on July 1st in Patong Phuket and with a facelift! No more electric cables on the beach front and road resurfacing in progress! Patong Beach is almost unrecognisable!!!!!
Earlier this year for the first time in decades, a large leatherback turtle came ashore at Kata Beach in Phuket to lay eggs yesterday in January. A total of 29 baby leatherback turtles broke through the sand and made their way into the sea at our favourite Kata Beach.The nest site has been sealed off for protection and a thermometer installed to monitor the temperature in the nest.
Karon Deputy Mayor Itthiporn Sangkaew, himself a native of Kata-Karon area, was overly happy about the turtle as were the locals! “As far as I can remember the last time turtles laid eggs at a beach in Kata-Karon was decades ago. Certainly not in the past 20 years,” he said.
Marine life experts from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) reported that the first turtles surfaced at about 10pm last evening and began making their way to the water’s edge with 80 eggs in total in the nest.In addition to the 29 that made it into the sea last night, five were taken into care as they were too weak to make the life-starting journey across the sand.
During the lockdown and in anticipation of Phuket’s reopening on July 1, there have been beach cleanups all over the island . Hotels have continually joined the local community and municipality to keep kata Beach clean with regular beach cleansing during closures.
Director SIS, Mat Christie Hindmarch said his team joining many hotels for our regular beach clean.The SIS Kata – A Dynamic Young and Trendy Resort Situated about 300 Metres up On the Hillside A Few Moments Away Of The Award-Winning Gold Sands Of Kata Beach.
“Hotels have continually joined the local community and municipality to keep kata Beach clean with regular beach cleansing during closures.”
The once popular beaches of Kata and Karon have been hit the hardest are most definitely Patong, Karon and Kata beaches, according to Anthony Lark, president of the Phuket Hotels Association.
“These three enclaves were 95% reliant on international tourism. And it dried up.”For the few who decided to stick it out, life has been incredibly difficult.” It’s very bad for us, he said.
Not many people come. We have only Thai people but not so many. In one day, only one or two tables. Normally we are full downstairs and upstairs.”He says staff are only getting paid half of their regular salaries until international tourists return.
For the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, founded in 2016, closing shop till the tourists return isn’t an option. Whether visitors come or not, the facility’s 12 retired working elephants, which live in the sanctuary’s 30 acres of jungle, need to be fed.”It costs approximately between 20,000 and 30,000 Thai baht a month to feed one elephant,” says general manager Vincent Gerards.
With a dozen animals on hand, that’s about $7,500-8,000 each month. Prior to the pandemic, most of that money came from the many visitors that would pay to experience the sanctuary and observe the elephants for a full day.”Around 85% of the population of Phuket relies on tourism in some form or another, whether they’re working in hotels or taxi drivers, fisherman — it’s all connected and we’re very dependent on international tourists,” says Gerards.”
So Covid obviously had a huge impact when we talk about elephant tourism in particular. More than 150 elephants living in Phuket have left the island since the beginning of Covid-19 because the camps had to temporarily or permanently close, and those elephants were then moved back to their owners who often live in other provinces.”
Phuket SandBox Reopening July 1
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the approved plan will take effect on July 1.”Phuket will be the first destination to lift quarantine requirements for vaccinated foreign tourists under the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ program,” says a TAT statement. “However, they will be restricted to travel activities within designated areas in Phuket for seven days and will then be allowed to visit other Thai destinations.”The plan is reliant on efforts to vaccinate 70% of the island’s residents, with officials requesting more than 930,000 doses. According to a report in Phuket News, more than 70,000 Phuket residents have received their first dose of the vaccine.
There is much optimism that international tourists will begin returning with measures for entering Phuket officially released today June 25, 2021. This is the glimmer of hope and a shining light at the end of our very dark, long tunnel.
For now, Phuket relies on domestic tourists
In the meantime, domestic tourism is keeping some businesses afloat — but just barely. “It has literally been the oxygen that has enabled almost all of the tourism-related businesses on Phuket to continue to breathe and survive.” says Lark, who points to the Bangkok residents that have been flying down on the weekends and government holidays.”But it’s unsustainable. Phuket’s tourism can’t survive at 6% to 8% occupancy. These hotels were designed to run at 30% to 40% occupancy to break even. So it’s helped stem the tide of outgoing grief, but it’s by no means sustainable, sadly.”
It has been a tough time, as Phuket does need international tourists. Everyone has been doing their bit and very creative to try to make the most of the situation that we are in at the moment and somehow managed to find a way. But we need to open up now we are supporting the local community, and we were working closely with local government and central government to get ready, in order to re-open Phuket, and to re-open Thailand, and to be ready to welcome international visitors.
Ekkapan, a street food vendor at Patong Beach, specializes in dishes from Thailand’s northeast Isaan region. He says the demographics of his customer base have shifted but — in spite of being in an area so reliant on international tourists — profits haven’t dipped. “Before Covid my customers were 80% foreign tourists,” he tells CNN. “But now we are serving mostly Thai people. Same money but we have to work harder. Foreigners liked to order grilled dishes, which were easy to make. Thais prefer things like som tom (papaya salad) and larb (a spicy minced meat dish) which take longer.”
The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary has also had to adapt its programs to cater to the domestic market — shortening the time length of its programs and lowering prices while also creating remote online opportunities to connect with their many followers from abroad. It’s helping to put food in the elephants’ mouths, but what they really need is for international tourists to come back as soon as possible.
With the pandemic tossing out an endless supply of curveballs over the last year, a lot can happen between now and July, it’s great to finally see that light at the end of the tunnel and to have a pretty clear plan of what’s going to happen. We’re ready to welcome tourists again!
Orginal story published by CNN
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