Thai PM’s pledge: 120 days to open wins support

BANGKOK, 21 June 2021: If Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha needed an endorsement for his decision to reopen Thailand to international tourism by October, he just got one from the country’s leading hospitality entrepreneur William Heinecke. 

Heinecke, who heads Minor International as its chairman and founder, has been a prolific writer of open letters to the PM during the twists and turns of Covid-19, calling for a radical shift in managing the pandemic to both saves lives and jobs.

Willian Heinecke.

Today he issued a press statement wholeheartedly applauding and supporting the Prime Minister’s recent declaration of reopening Thailand in 120 days. 

“I believe he is charting a realistic and prudent course that has the full backing of both the business community and everyday workers, who have long suffered a loss of business and income by keeping Thailand closed,” Heinecke explained.

However, he did offer some advice this time pointed at the provincial and local authorities who have considerable influence over whether national government objectives actually materialise on the ground at popular tourist destination around the country.

Adopting a biblical “beseech”, his message of support called on all national, provincial and local officials to recognise the importance of the Prime Minister’s words and work diligently to make this reopening happen safely.

“I have full faith that our country’s leaders and medical resources can work cooperatively to safeguard public health while simultaneously resuscitating our devastated economy.”

Heinecke heads a global hospitality firm headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand, that has five-star properties in most of Thailand’s leading tourist destination, including Phuket, where a pilot project to open the island to vaccinated travellers gets underway on 1 July. If successful, the Phuket Sandbox model will extend to other destinations by October.

“Vaccinations are swiftly rolling out throughout the world and also within Thailand. At the same time, Covid-19 will be an inextricable part of our lives going forward,” Heinecke warned. “We have to face it head-on. Now is the ideal time to start and reopen our country to the world, following other destinations (i.e. the EU, the Middle East and the USA, which have already opened to safe countries and vaccinated travellers.”

First step the Sandbox

“The most crucial part of any journey is the first step. In the case of reopening Thailand, that first step is the Phuket Sandbox Programme.  It is imperative that Phuket Sandbox launches on schedule and with the efficiency that is expected of premiere travellers.” 

He urged local authorities to open Phuket to all vaccinated travellers, Thai and foreign, reminding them that to succeed, Phuket must ultimately ease entry requirements, restrictions on movement, duration of stay and phase-out the Certificate of Entry (COE) issued by Thai embassies before the journey can begin.

His comments echo those of other travel industry leaders who fear the Phuket pilot scheme’s success could fall below expectations. While tourism officials talk of thousands responding to the call to holiday in Phuket, private sector entrepreneurs say the response could be far off the ambitious targets.

There is a desperate need to provide clarity urgently – like now – to ensure airlines planning to fly direct services to Phuket, 1 July, can muster enough paying passengers to make the project financially viable.

Public health officials need to release the final list of green-light nationalities that can visit the island under the Sandbox scheme. Draft lists are circulating, but until official websites post a firm list, vaccinated travellers should not risk making a booking that could go wrong.

Travellers will still have to apply for a visa at the nearest Thai embassy, obtain a Certificate of Entry, take a pre-flight PCR swab test and show proof of a USD100,000 insurance cover.

They will have to stay on Phuket island for 14 days and take a couple of PCR swab tests before they are free to visit other destinations in Thailand. However, they can opt for a shorter stay on Phuket that requires them to board a direct flight out of the island to return home without visiting the rest of Thailand.

(Source: Press statement Willian Heinecke.)