Chiang Mai authorities are working hard to reopen the northern province to fully vaccinated tourists under a scheme based on Phuket’s “Tourism Sandbox” model.
The resort island has been preparing to reopen its borders to visitors vaccinated against COVID-19 on July 1.
Chiang Mai, also dependent on tourism, wants to learn from Phuket’s strategy to follow suit a month later. Under the Sandbox rules, foreign travelers will have to stay on the island for 14 days instead of seven before moving to other destinations.
Both provinces were heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since COVID-19 began to spread globally last year and tourism revenue plummeted, airlines, hotels, restaurants, tour guides and other companies have struggled to stay afloat.
The Thai government expects the Sandbox program to help them recover.
According to Narong Tananuwat, deputy chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee in the North, Chiang Mai cannot allow its fortunes to fall further. The province, which has a significant bearing on the national economy, raised 100 billion baht in tourism revenue in 2019.
But pandemic restrictions cut revenue to 43 billion baht last year as passengers at Chiang Mai airport fell from 11.3 million to 6.2 million.
Furthermore, the health crisis forced more than 60% of Chiang Mai’s tourism-related businesses to close. In response to the dire situation generated by the devastating third wave of COVID-19, the province has begun devising stimulus plans to save its industry, Mr. Narong said.
However, 70% of residents must get vaccinated first for the plans to work, Mr. Narong stated, lamenting the slow vaccine program rollout.
Mr. Narong also explained that stakeholders in Chiang Mai agreed that provincial officials should push for their version of the Sandbox program to be launched on August 1 in four districts before opening to fully vaccinated tourists on October 15. The districts are Mae Taeng, Mae Rim, Muang, and Doi Tao.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand will submit the Chiang Mai reopening proposal to the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) for approval.
Navapol Kanthawanich, chairman of the We Love Chiang Mai Fund, said that the mass inoculations began on Monday in all four districts of Chiang Mai but stated that the vaccination schedule must be sped up for the August 1 reopening to proceed as planned.
The Sandbox also requires that tourists have received all doses of a COVID-19 vaccine recognized by their country of origin.
They must also be covered by health insurance, download the CM-Chana tracking app, undergo a coronavirus test, and stay in SHA-certified hotels if they arrive on direct international flights.