Thailand’s Travel Experiment

Vacations to tropical islands in Southeast Asia like Bali and Langkawi became a distant memory during the pandemic. And with a resurgence in Covid-19 in much of the region this year, coupled with slow vaccine rollouts, a return to normal is on hold.

But Thailand has other ideas.

The tourism-reliant nation wants to allow quarantine-free travel to Phuket island, one of its prime holiday destinations famous for pristine beaches and vibrant nightlife. Starting July 1, for the first time in more than a year, visitors would be able to enter and immediately roam the island, provided they’re inoculated against Covid-19 and aren’t coming from countries deemed high risk.

Known as the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ plan, it’s an important test case, not just for Thailand, but for the rest of the region’s holiday spots, says Banyan Tree Holdings founder and Executive Chairman Ho Kwon Ping.

“Every government is beginning to feel around on how to open up, and the Phuket Sandbox is really a viable way now because even the travel bubbles that people talked about didn’t take place,” says Ho, who runs a leisure and property empire of 48 hotels and resorts in more than a dozen countries.

In addition to the Indonesian island of Bali, he says the plan could be followed by China’s Hainan and Phu Quoc in southern Vietnam, which are also islands.

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