Travel Agent NewsA UK-based travel agent reflects on her Phuket Sandbox trip, her first visit to Southeast Asia since the pandemic.

In the footsteps of a Phuket pioneer

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Tracy Douglas, Travel Experts Manager of UK-based Premier Holidays, relaxing by the beach during her recent Phuket Sandbox trip.
Tracy Douglas, Travel Experts Manager of UK-based Premier Holidays, relaxing by the beach during her recent Phuket Sandbox trip.

Phuket has since 1 July reopened to international vaccinated tourists without a 14-day quarantine as part of its Sandbox recovery plan.

The paperwork is daunting to begin with, but booking with a reputable agent or tour operator, they will be willing to help you as much as they can.

Since the island's reopening, over 300,000 hotel rooms have been booked until end of August by international visitors via the Phuket Sandbox programme. A majority of these arrivals hailed from the US, Europe and Israel.

Tracy Douglas, Travel Experts Manager of UK-based Premier Holidays, was recently invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to visit Phuket after the island reopened in July. She speaks to Travel Weekly Asia about her recent trip.

Was this your first trip to Southeast Asia since the pandemic? How does it feel travelling to this part of the world again?

Yes, this was my first trip to Asia since the pandemic. It felt wonderful to be travelling again, to anywhere really, not just Asia. We work in travel as we love to travel and this was a very unique opportunity.

Was Phuket different than before in your most recent trip? Which notable spots did you visit?

Phuket was definitely quieter. The sand on the beaches seemed whiter and the sea bluer, as the lack of tourists seemed to make it cleaner! But the lack of tourism also meant that there were less choices for eating and drinking. However, the hotels were exceptional at welcoming guests and offered a range of facilities for those who visited.

We visited an elephant sanctuary. It was amazing to see how these gentle giants have been looked after during the pandemic and how our tourism helped them to be looked after.

Now that you've visited Phuket, what's your message to your clients in the UK?

Go, go, go! If you thought Phuket was too busy for you, now is the time to go. If you thought you have to travel around in Thailand to experience the destination, now you don’t have to if you don’t want to. If you like a fabulous hotel-based holiday, with wonderful service and scenery, now is the time to visit. And if you have extra time, you can then travel once the quarantine period is over. And the more people go, the more the local restaurants and bars will open. Win, win!

Which of your customer segments are interested to visit Phuket, and would they be willing to 'jump through the hoops' to visit Thailand as opposed to an 'easier' destination nearer home?

The paperwork is daunting to begin with, but booking with a reputable agent or tour operator, they will be willing to help you as much as they can. I think with the vaccination programme in the UK being so good, anybody who is double vaccinated can travel. It will appeal to those who may have visited a while ago as I think they will be pleasantly surprised by how Phuket looks now. But it will also appeal to those who have never been before—and you can’t find the Thai hospitality anywhere else.

From the moment we arrived in Phuket, we were welcomed by everyone. Hoteliers, ground handlers and locals were happy to see us. Yes, it takes some organisation to get there, but once you do it is well worth it.

Singapore has announced plans to reopen to international travel. Will there be twinning synergy with Phuket, especially as Singapore Airlines is also used by many travellers to enter Phuket Sandbox?

I think the UK traveller loves to explore new destinations. So the more places that open up, the more places we will visit. Singapore has always been a favourite to travel to and I think it will only enhance a holiday to Thailand with a stopover in either direction.



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