Before the pandemic, Thai island Phuket offered visitors the perfect blend of sun, beach and seedy-but-fun nightlife as one of the region’s best-known tourist destinations. Now, it offers visitors something much more novel: A quarantine-free holiday.
As of the start of July, fully vaccinated visitors from select countries can fly directly into Phuket and go straight from the tarmac to the beach. Spend a full 14 days there and visitors (or savvy Thai nationals) are welcome to continue their trip around Thailand, effectively spending their quarantine term in a resort under a programme that is being called the “Phuket sandbox”.
The programme isn’t without controversy. Fears over the safety of Phuket communities, as well as cynical assumptions that few would take up the confusing and expensive offer, blighted the programme in its first weeks.
Still, if it goes well, expect to see other holiday favourites such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao accessible shortly afterward.
Thailand was the first country outside of China to record a case of COVID-19 which, paired with mass cancellations of trips from Chinese visitors, saw tourism grind to a halt in the first couple of months of 2020.
The sharp, sudden decline in visitor numbers and then eventual rolling lockdowns smashed the country, where tourism accounts for around 12 per cent of GDP.