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Tea Leaves

Back on the beach in Thailand's model 'sandbox'

Ring-fencing of resort island shows possible way forward for tourism

Health workers wait to administer COVID-19 swab tests to travelers at the airport on the Thai resort island of Phuket on July 1.    © Reuters

With some 20% of its economy based on tourism, you would expect Thailand's marketing gurus to dream up innovative slogans. They have given us such enduring catch lines as "Amazing Thailand" and "Smooth as Silk" for Thai Airways International. The latest is "Phuket Sandbox" as a pillar for the country's post-COVID-19 tourism recovery program. Thais love a good pun -- and "Sandbox" isn't bad. It evokes both the beach resort's key attraction and the experimental ring-fencing of Phuket Island from the rest of Thailand.

Neither Thai humor nor the subtleties of Thai marketing were uppermost in my mind when I stepped into the Phuket airport arrivals hall in mid-July, just two weeks into the Sandbox program. More pressing was the prospect of running the gauntlet of officials clad in top-to-toe personal protective equipment.

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