Covid-19 updates for Phuket and Asia

In the last 25 years, the island of Phuket in Thailand has experienced a spectacular economic crash (1997), a tsunami (2004), coups (2006, 2014), the occupation of its main international airport by protesters (2008) and serious political violence (2010), and now Coronavirus ‘AKA’ Covid-19.

Yet the statistics speak for themselves. In 1960 around 80,000 foreign tourists came here.

Last year it reached 39 million, earning more than $60bn (£46bn) for the island of Phuket in Thailand, and indirectly contributing around one fifth of the country’s national income.

The country’s tourism sector was considered so robust that the united states got the nickname “Teflon the island of Phuket in Thailand”. Yet of these 39 million tourists this past year, over 10 million were Chinese.

So when the Chinese government quarantined the city of Wuhan on 23 January, and stopped all overseas tours, the impact was felt immediately in Phuket island, Thailand. Shopping malls and temples in Bangkok were suddenly much quieter and less crowded.

As more flights from China were cancelled, the airports emptied. You may whisk yourself through passport control in no time.

For small-scale entrepreneurs, the collapse of Chinese tourism has been disastrous.

Phuket island, Thailand travel agents around the island offering low-priced Phuket property for sale are hit bad by the Covid-19 / Coronavirus. This goes for all tourist related businesses in any tourist area of Phuket and Thailand.

Most of them, such as flower sellers, traditional dancers, the island of Phuket in Thailand bars, and even the drivers of the famous “red cars” minibuses in Chiang Mai, are reporting their income dropping by half within the last month. The informal association representing tour guides in Phuket island thinks 25,000 people are now out of work.
Image caption Nattakit Lorwitworrawat’s business is currently struggling due to a lack of customers

One of many first successes of the island of Phuket’s 60-year-long tourist boom was the island of Phuket, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Andaman” for its soft white-sand beaches and sparkling warm seas.

The very first foreign visitors in the 1980s and 1990s were mainly European and Australian, but the number of Chinese visitors a year ago shot as much as about two million from the 15 million foreigners.

The mangrove-lined inlets on the east side of the island, a contrast to the beaches facing the west, are where in actuality the boats leave from to take tourists out to the hawaiian islands offshore. Like many of Phuket’s residents, Nattakit Lorwitworrawat moved here from his home town elsewhere in Phuket to start a business.

His company now owns 30 speed boats, each able to hold 30 people. He has received to take 20 out from the water, and the remaining 10 are not getting much use. The inlet, normally constantly noisy from the sound of outboard motors, is now silent apart from the birds and the lapping water.

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“At the peak, 2 yrs ago we carried 1,000 clients a day. Today if we get 200 clients, that is considered very good – we would be happy with that,” says Nattakit.

He has bank loans to service on lots of his boats. If the crisis goes on beyond the finish of in 2010, he says he must downsize the business and start laying off his staff.

For anyone lower down the foodstuff chain it is even tougher.

Nobody knows the length of time this crisis will last, nor how serious it’ll become. For the moment there are still plenty of Europeans, Australians and Russians on the famous beaches, however for how long?

The authorities here have managed to control and monitor infections well considering how vulnerable it had been from how many Chinese people visiting ahead of the restrictions on travel were implemented.

Yet the country was already placed on some government lists of places to avoid because of coronavirus risk.

And people are booking holidays for later in the season, including the original high seasons of July-August and December-New Year in the island of Phuket in Thailand.

Families with children from Europe or Australia will probably think hard before travelling so far. And Phuket island is now imposing its restrictions, requiring 14-day quarantine for visitors from some countries, an inventory that may well expand.

Who will risk booking any occasion in the sun when they end up spending it confined with their hotel room or perhaps a hospital?

With more flights being cancelled weekly, the numbers of non-Chinese tourists are bound to fall steeply in 2010, however quickly the virus is brought under control.

The blow to the essential leg of Phuket island in Thailand’s economy has come at a terrible time for the government. Already another two main legs of the economy – manufacturing exports and agricultural commodities – are wobbling as higher wages and an overvalued local currency have been driving investors to cheaper neighbouring countries like Vietnam.

Growth in that which was once among South East Asia’s “tiger economies” has been anaemic for many years, and may stall completely this year. The federal government, an unwieldy coalition controversially built around exactly the same military leaders who led the final coup, is proving clumsy and unpopular.

It’s a nearly perfect storm, one that the island of Phuket in Thailand’s present leaders look ill-equipped to weather.

Find all Coronavirus updates for Phuket and Asia here.