Local airlines in no rush to serve Phuket

Empty sunbeds are seen around the swimming pool of a hotel which has opened for visitors in Karon, Phuket. (Reuters photo)

Local airlines are still reluctant to join the Phuket sandbox model as shaky travel regulations and unstable tourism demand remain an obstacle.

Since the third wave of the pandemic began to ravage domestic demand in April, the average load factor has plunged as many provinces have imposed travel restrictions on people from the red zone, led by Bangkok, the epicentre of the fresh outbreak, said Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation Plc (AAV), the largest shareholder of Thai AirAsia.

Therefore, airlines must be cautious before resuming the route, including international locations that connect to Phuket. However, many international airlines have announced their intent to fly direct to Phuket from July in tandem with reopening.

“We won’t rush international services in the early stages of the sandbox as tourist demand is unstable, particularly as vaccinated tourists will be forced to roam the island for 14 days,” he said. “Reopening is necessary but we have to wait for steady rules and demand.”

The government recently changed entry regulations for inoculated tourists to Phuket, expanding compulsory stays on the island from 7 days to 14 days. Visitors are also required to submit three swab tests even if they show negative results prior to arrival.

Mr Tassapon said if airlines choose to operate this route but receive few bookings, it might have to cancel the flight to avoid incurring losses which will irk tourists who have already booked and the airline itself which will lose credibility.

At present, Thai AirAsia is using just two aircraft from its fleet of 59. In the first quarter, a leased airplane was retired and the airline will not replace it in order to streamline…

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