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Phuket broken but not out yet

Phuket authorities will be making all-out efforts to restore tourist confidence following the murder of a Swiss tourist which has dealt a serious blow to the “sandbox” opening programme.

Although police spent only two days tracking down the suspect after discovering the tourist’s body, local authorities and business operators agreed there were many more things to do to restore the confidence of tourists.

Phuket reopened for foreign tourists from July 1 under the Phuket sandbox scheme amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

Under the scheme, tourists are required to stay on the resort island for 14 days and undergo several Covid-19 tests before they are allowed to travel to other provinces.

Phuket governor Narong Woonciew said officials will survey unsafe areas in each community and put them under surveillance.

Equipment and technology will be used to enhance security.

He said collaboration from all sectors is a must and, as an urgent measure, volunteers from the civil sector will be recruited to act as the eyes and ears of local authorities in deterring crimes.

“The province and all stakeholders are working together to step up security for tourists. We are thankful to everyone working to restore confidence in the Phuket sandbox scheme,” he said at a press conference on the arrest of the murder suspect.

He thanked local people for their cooperation, authorities and police for a swift investigation leading to the arrest of Teerawat Thothip, 27, who confessed to the murder of Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf who was found dead last Thursday at a waterfall.

He said authorities will make assessments to determine how to increase safety around tourist spots deemed to be unsafe.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn also thanked police for taking swift action, which is expected to restore confidence.

The incident had shocked many and could have devastating impacts on the country’s image, he said.

He said the Tourism and Sports Ministry and TAT offices worldwide will evaluate the impacts on the sandbox scheme, while noting that it is still early to discuss the repercussions.

According to the TAT governor, forward bookings for the Phuket sandbox are still ongoing. Almost 6,000 room nights were reserved on Aug 7, compared with 7,027 room nights on Aug 5.

Phurit Matwongsa, the manager of Patong Resort, said the impacts are limited at this point because the suspect was arrested quickly.

However, an incident like this should never have happened and pre-emptive measures must be in place.

He also said the Covid-19 outbreak is still having a big impact on the tourism industry with several countries advising their people to avoid unnecessary travel to Thailand.

Jan Kaethner, a Swiss diplomat for police affairs, thanked police and the government for their efforts in tracking down the attacker and restoring safety to the tourist province.

Phumkit Raktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the local community will cooperate in making the province a safe tourist destination.

Prachum Tantiprasertsuk, executive of Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket, said he expects to see increased collaboration in tightening security and safety for tourists.

According to the TAT, the Phuket sandbox scheme has generated at least 818 million baht since its launch on July 1. As of Aug 2, it has welcomed 15,169 foreign visitors.

More than 317,000 room nights have been reserved during July-September: 190,843 are for July, 116,253 for August and 10,320 for September.

In July, the province received 141 flights from six airlines and tomorrow will welcome 191 tourists.

Based on the survey, beaches and natural tourist sites top the tourists’ favourite places.

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