The government has pledged to accelerate its efforts to rehabilitate Phuket's tourism industry, which has been pounded by the pandemic on both its short-term and long-term goals.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha already ordered his advisory team, led by Thosaporn Sirisamphand, former secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), to finalise the proposals put forward by the private sector to rebuild the tourism industry in Phuket.
According to Danucha Pichayanan, the NESDC secretary-general, the advisory team is expected to conclude its work shortly and will soon submit the proposals to the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA).
"Covid-19 has delivered a heavy blow to Phuket's tourism, as 90% of the sector's annual revenue is generated by foreign tourists," he said.
Phuket employed about 170,000-180,000 people in the tourism sector prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Statistics from the Labour Ministry suggest this number has dwindled to just 80,000, said Mr Danucha.
As a short-term measure to revitalise tourism in Phuket, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) was ordered to study the possibility of extending the "We Travel Together" programme to December 2021 from January 2021.
The TAT is also studying ways to improve the scheme, including raising the subsidies offered on hotel accommodation, available from Monday through Thursday, to 50% from its current level of 40%.
The private sector also proposed tourists should be able to use tourism coupons for tour packages, car rentals and spa visits, not just for food.
In addition, the subsidy on air tickets should be extended to cover car rental and petrol, he said.
The Labour Ministry was ordered to consider a request for the government to contribute 7,500 baht a month to each worker at hotels, spas and tour companies for 12 months so they could be retained in their employment.
Mr Danucha said if the government improves the subsidies available in the We Travel Together scheme or measures to help companies retain their employees, they should be implemented nationwide, not solely within Phuket province.
As a long-term measure, he said the Transport Ministry is required to conduct a feasibility study regarding the construction of a 22.4-kilometre highway from Ban Muang Mai in Thalang district to Ban Ko Kaeo in Muang district of Phuket to ease traffic congestion.
The new highway project is estimated to cost 30 billion baht, comprising 12 billion for its construction and 18 billion for land expropriation.
The NESDC was ordered to study the possibility of upgrading Phuket to become a world-class wellness tourism location, with an investment estimated at 3 billion baht.
This scheme includes four projects: an international medical centre; an international senior care hospital; a rehabilitation centre and a hospice home.
Mr Danucha said the project would likely be implemented under a public-private partnership deal.
Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of Phuket Tourist Association, said Phuket is forecast to lose about 200-320 billion baht worth of tourism revenue this year because of the pandemic.
Phuket generated 470 billion baht in tourism revenue last year from 14.5 million visitors.
Foreign visitors accounted for 90% of tourism revenue in Phuket province.
In the first 10 months this year, Phuket reported 150 billion baht in tourism revenue -- 100 billion from foreign visitors and 50 billion from domestic tourism.
Tourism revenue has fallen by 80% when compared with the same period last year.
Mr Bhummikitti warned the pandemic may cause most tourism operators in Phuket to collapse without any additional aid measures from the government.
He said Phuket is ready to welcome more foreign visitors, with 1,900 rooms allocated for use as alternative state quarantine hotel sites.