Phuket sandbox glitches unfold

The Phuket sandbox scheme is still fixing inconvenient regulations, particularly regarding digital competency, in the buildup to its planned reopening on July 1. However, important short-haul markets are likely to be absent in the early months of the scheme.


Rules regarding verification and tracking systems still pose a challenge, including redundant apps as Thailand is using at least two now. Vaccine certificate verification is another stumbling block as many countries are issuing a paper and digital version, said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.


Guests flying to the island hoping to rejoin friends or loved ones may be disappointed as the sandbox does not allow inbound guests to share a room with domestic guests, he said.


"There is much debate about this question. The health authorities are strongly opposed to the idea of letting visitors and local residents stay together in the same hotel room in the sandbox area as health remains a vital concern," Mr. Bhummikitti said.


He said this is one of many rules where all sides have to seek common ground.


"No one option will please all tourists, tourism operators, and health officials at the same time," Mr. Bhummikitti said.


While the scheme awaits final endorsement and publication in the Royal Gazette, which is expected no later than this Saturday, concerns remain about the authentication of vaccine certificates.


"Any mistake in this process will leave a big loophole as Phuket is the first destination to reopen," he said. "We have to find a way to effectively authenticate certificates originating from a different system."


For instance, in the US only New York has adopted e-certificates for inoculated citizens, while European countries employ digital health certificates, and South Korea and Singapore use blockchain technology to trace vaccination records.


"We have to prepare a secure system to cope with all types of certificates," said Mr. Bhummikitti.


Another hurdle for tourists that needs to be ironed out is redundant tracking apps. Visitors currently have to install both the "Mor Chana" and "Thailand Plus" apps on their mobile phones.


Tourism operators are urging the use of a single app to streamline tracking for the convenience of tourists, he said.


"We are still confused over tracking apps. Too many apps are not good for tourists who want to holiday here. We need to correct this urgently before reopening," Mr. Bhummikitti said.

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