Phuket tiger park hopes to roar back to life as foreign tourists return

published : 29 Jun 2021 at 16:03

Tigers gather by a pool in their enclosure at Tiger Kingdom on Monday as Phuket gets ready to open its doors to overseas tourists from July 1, allowing fully vaccinated foreigners to visit the resort island without quarantine. (Reuters photo)

PHUKET: A tiger park in Phuket is gearing up to welcome back overseas visitors this week, as businesses on the resort island hope to benefit from a pilot programme to allow fully vaccinated tourists to enter the province.

Under the plan, foreign tourists vaccinated against Covid-19 can bypass quarantine requirements and freely move around the island. After 14 days, barring any coronavirus issues, they can travel elsewhere in Thailand. The general manager of Tiger Kingdom said the park had taken precautions ahead of Thursday’s reopening to ensure foreign visitors are comfortable.

“We have vaccinated more than 90% of our staff and also trained them about the ‘new normal’ tourism,” Chadarat Taodaeng said. The park offers close encounters with big cats, and is home to more than 50 tigers and a cheetah. Since the pandemic, visitor numbers have slumped from nearly 1,000 a day to fewer than 20.

Thailand lost about $50 billion in tourism revenue last year as foreign arrivals plunged 83% to 6.7 million, from a record 39.9 million in 2019. Phuket was hit particularly hard by job losses and business closings.

“I’m happy that finally there will be people visiting the tigers, and Phuket city will be bustling again,” said the park’s assistant manager, Phonphawit Ton-od, adding that the reopening would “help with both tigers’ and the staff’s mental health.”

There has been an increase in popularity of such parks, despite criticism by conservationists and concerns over safety after some instances of maulings. For the government, bringing back visitors has been a priority, even as authorities have tried to contain a stubborn wave of coronavirus infections in recent months.

Officials hope Phuket’s pilot programme will draw 129,000 foreign visitors in the third quarter of 2021, a number still far below the average 3.3 million monthly arrivals in 2019. “I’m happy about the park reopening because our cheetah Gregor loves being around tourists and staff,” said keeper Abdulrahim A-waekechi. 

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