As a result of Thailand's recent acceptance of Russia's Sputnik vaccine, tourism operators from both destinations are looking forward to a stronger Q4, as this move could open doors to other European countries.
In a 9 September industry event hosted by Laguna Resorts & Hotels, C9 Hotelworks and Delivering Asia Communications, Russian tour operators expressed belief that many of their clients are longing to return to Phuket, now that "thousands of Russian citizens" are eligible for Phuket's Sandbox programme.
Sputnik joined Thailand's list of approved vaccines effective 1 September, and the first Aeroflot flight is due to depart on 4 October 2021.
Said Ravi Chandran, CEO of Laguna Resorts & Hotels: “[This move] adds stability and continuity to the Sandbox concept and it will give a lot of the other European countries — and other countries around the world — confidence in the concept, when they see a big player like Russia participating."
He also noted that arrival numbers should probably start slowly, before “building up in November and December, once more airlines launch flights”.
Reopening to the 'snow birds'
Pre-pandemic, Russia ranked as one of Phuket’s biggest source markets, sending more than 700,000 visitors to the beachside destination in 2019.
Salim Akbas, product purchasing manager (Southern Thailand) for ODEON Tourism, said that Russia was a “really good fit for the Sandbox” due to the 14-day length-of-stay requirement, which is similar to the usual vacation duration preferred by Russian "snow birds", and their strong appetite for Thailand’s beaches and food.
The “7+7” extension of the Sandbox will also enable visitors to experience more parts of the Kingdom, with the option of combining Phuket with destinations such as Khao Lak, Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi.
On Thailand's end, Khanittha Phanworawat, director of the TAT’s Moscow office, shared that her team is already ramping up its promotional efforts in Russia.
“The Phuket Sandbox is our main agenda for the travel trade. We explained the concept to Russian tour operators at an event in Moscow in September. B2B online workshops have also connected Thai hoteliers and suppliers with Russian agents, and we have set up a dedicated Russian language website to provide the latest information for travel to Thailand.”
Russian tour operators at the event warned however, that some key factors were still restricting the destination’s full potential.
Said Akbas, "It’s recovery season, so [hoteliers need to] make the price point right. Everyone wants to make profit, but this might not be the right time. If we miss one more high season, the competition might become too strong. Dubai for example, will be an alternative destination."
Olga Na Takuatoong, deputy managing director of Exotic Voyage, a luxury Russian tour operator, added that "during the pandemic, a lot of Russian customers went to the Maldives, Dubai, the Seychelles or other countries. To attract customers back, I would recommend that Phuket’s hospitality sector needs to maintain their promotional rates, and not try to increase them".
The Phuket Sandbox currently allows fully-vaccinated international travellers from more than 60 destinations worldwide quarantine-free stays in Phuket, if they fly direct to the island, stay in approved accommodation, and take regular PCR tests during the stay.