Costly Covid-19 tests, SHN deter S'pore travellers from flocking to reopened Phuket

Phuket is the first province in Thailand to welcome back tourists after borders were shut more than a year ago.
Phuket is the first province in Thailand to welcome back tourists after borders were shut more than a year ago.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The resort island of Phuket reopened its doors to international travellers on Thursday (July 1), but travel agents say would-be tourists from Singapore have not rushed to make bookings.

The high costs of numerous Covid-19 tests and travel insurance, as well as potentially lengthy quarantine requirements upon returning to Singapore are likely to be big deterrents, said several travel agencies in Singapore.

Travel booking platform Klook also cites the uncertainty around travel requirements as a reason for the muted response from Singaporeans so far.

"While Singaporeans may be keen to scratch that travel itch, we are observing that many are still quite cautious. This is not unexpected, as there is unfamiliarity with travel guidelines and quarantine measures," said its general manager, Ms Sarah Wan.

Phuket is the first province in Thailand to welcome back tourists after borders were shut more than a year ago.

Tourists do not need to undergo any quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in their country for at least 14 days, and test negative upon arrival, among other requirements.

Agence France-Presse news agency reported that 249 passengers were expected to arrive in Phuket on Thursday, on flights from countries including Singapore, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Currently, airfares to Phuket from Singapore hover in the $200 to $300 range for the month of July.

Airfares of around $300 are similar to pre-Covid-19 times, said Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel.

However, there are additional costs that can be "hefty" for travellers.

"There is also the need to purchase travel insurance with coverage of at least US$100,000 (S$135,000). All these costs are to be paid out of the traveller's pockets," she noted.

There are several other requirements for tourists, including obtaining a certificate of entry at the Thai embassy in their country of origin, as well as a certificate for a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of the flight to Thailand.

If their stay is less than 14 nights, they need to have a confirmed flight ticket out of Thailand.

Those who wish to travel to the rest of Thailand must remain in Phuket for 14 days at a hotel certified by the Thai government, and take three coronavirus tests during this period.

Throughout the duration of their stay, they will also have to use ThailandPlus and MorChana, which are mobile applications for tracking purposes.

Travel agency Chan Brothers said it expects customers to "adopt a wait-and-see approach to see if there are any further developments to be observed".

"While Phuket introduces its 'travel sandbox' scheme with the various conditions, outbound leisure travel gaining traction in our local market is also highly dependent on Singapore's own border measures and quarantine policies when travellers return to Singapore," said Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel.

Currently, all travellers arriving in Singapore from Thailand are required to complete a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) at dedicated SHN facilities.

Dynasty Travel's Ms Seah also noted that although most of the shopping malls, attractions, beaches, spa and wellness centres on the island are open, entertainment facilities such as pubs, karaokes and night entertainment centres and shows remain closed.

Among the hotels welcoming tourists back is hospitality group Banyan Tree, which has several properties on the resort island.

It received around 30 inquiries from Singapore on Thursday across its Banyan Tree Phuket, Angsana Laguna Phuket and Cassia Phuket resorts, a spokesman said.

"Interests in bookings are for August onwards, as they are still not keen to travel in July," said the spokesman, adding that most inquirers expressed concerns about being quarantined upon return to Singapore and the several Covid-19 tests they will have to take.


Banyan Tree's Cassia Phuket resort. A Banyan Tree spokesman said that most inquirers expressed concerns about being quarantined upon returning to Singapore and the several Covid-19 tests they will have to take. PHOTO: BANYAN TREE GROUP

Ms Charlotte Heyman, regional manager for hotel and villa partnerships at travel booking site Mr & Mrs Smith, said Phuket bookings have increased - especially in the last quarter of the year and the start of next year. Interest is mainly from Europe and the United States, which still have Thailand on their no-travel list.

Klook has seen some interest in car rentals and the booking of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests at a hospital in Phuket, said Ms Wan. This is because more travellers are looking into private modes of transport to avoid crowds and PCR tests become "essential in the new normal of travel".

A PCR swab test on Klook starts at $142.59.

Ms Wan expects interest in leisure travel to rise as more Singapore residents get vaccinated.

"With Singapore aiming for half its residents to be fully vaccinated by August, vaccination rates will also play a big role in impacting Singaporeans' decision in booking their next getaway.

"We believe that interest will ramp up from August onward, once more Singaporeans are fully vaccinated and confident to travel overseas."