FILE PHOTO: People receive the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine as the Thai resort island of Phuket rushes to vaccinate its population amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and ahead of a July 1 ending of strict quarantine for overseas visitors, to bring back tourism revenue in Phuket, Thailand, April 2, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Visitors to Thailand’s resort island of Phuket in July were at just 1% of pre-pandemic levels, an official told Reuters, as a bid to revive tourism to the Southeast Asian country gets off to a slow start amid its biggest COVID-19 outbreak yet.
The island re-opened last month under the “Phuket Sandbox” programme to fully-vaccinated tourists who could skip Thailand’s mandatory two week quarantine provided they remained on Phuket, where tourism accounts for 90% of the local economy.
Nearly 15,000 people visited the island from overseas in July, Phuket Tourist Association president Bhummikitti Ruktaengam told Reuters, equivalent to just over 450 foreign arrivals a day.
“In the past, we were looking at 43,000 daily arrivals, so what we got was 1% of normality,” he said. “1% in business terms is not ok, but 1% also gives hope,” he added. “We’re seeing the light. It’s encouraging.”
Tourism before the pandemic was a key driver of Thailand’s economy, accounting for 12% of GDP. In 2019, the country welcomed 40 million foreign arrivals, of which 10 million visited Phuket.
The Finance Ministry recently slashed its forecast for foreign arrivals to 300,000, down from an earlier prediction of 2 million.
Phuket has kept infections low with a 7-day average of 35 cases compared with the national average of 18,400. However, the number of people with bookings for August stood at just 9,000 so far, Bhummikitti said, as Thailand grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
On Wednesday, the health ministry reported 20,200 new coronavirus cases and 188 additional deaths, both of which were record highs.
“People looking from overseas will see that the numbers are scary,” Bhummikitti said.
This content was originally published here.