By Linda Khoo Hui Li
BANGKOK, Nov. 20 -- Patong in Phuket on a Saturday night was eerily quiet.
The street, which was once upon a time packed with revelers on weekend, is deserted. Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars are shuttered while souvenir shops, convenient stores and tour company’s office are boarded-up. The street has gone dark.
Taxi drivers were spotted waiting at the roadside with the hope of getting passengers, while handful of locals and foreigners staying in the area strolled through the street.
Phuket, Thailand’s second most popular destination after Bangkok, welcomed more than nine million tourists last year. However, the resort island recorded zero foreign tourist arrival since April following a ban on commercial flights by the government to curb COVID-19 outbreak.
Since then, the tourism sector, which makes up close to 11 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) last year, has taken a hit from the ban on foreign tourists.
Only repatriation flights carrying Thai nationals and foreigners who hold working permit, permanent residents, business travelers and foreigners seeking treatment are allowed to enter the kingdom. A 14-day quarantine upon arrival and the obtainment of health insurance is mandatory.
To date, Thailand – the first country outside China to report COVID-19 cases – has recorded a total of 3,892 COVID-19 cases with 60 fatalities.
The tourism sector continues to suffer from the impact of the pandemic with little sign of recovery in the near future.
Last year, Thailand welcomed 39.8 million foreign visitors – and a revenue of 1.93 trillion baht. This year, Thailand had looked to welcome more than 40 million tourist, but the Bank of Thailand projected only 6.7 million visitors this year.
In a bid to revive its tourism industry, the Thai government is slowly trying to get the ball rolling with the introduction of the Special Tourist Visa (STV) last month (October).
The STV allows foreign tourists to stay up to nine months in the kingdom, where visitors must undergo a 14-day quarantine at the state’s alternative quarantine facilities (hotel) upon arrival, as well as obtaining health insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment for the amount of US$100,000.
Also last month (October), Thailand received two group of tourists from China – the first arrivals since commercial flight ban imposed in April – with strict health measures implemented including undergoing COVID-19 test upon arrival.
For 71-year-old Ekaimon, who lives in Phuket, the measures introduced by the government is a ray of hope to the people in tourism-related industry.
“No one knows for sure how long this pandemic will last and it’s unclear what the tourism industry will look like after COVID-19...my biggest hope is everything will return to normalcy where streets are packed with tourists and buzzing with activities,” he said.