All across south Asia, the unprecedented international effort to
relieve the human suffering and repair the physical damage caused
by the massive tsunami of Dec. 26 continues around the clock. At
the same time, the tourism industries of the countries hit by the
great tidal wave assess the staggering economic cost to them.
There’s no question that many beach resorts popular with Western
tourists suffered a dreadful loss of life, as well as the
destruction of popular resort hotels and much of the local support
Overall, though, destinations and properties most used by U.S.
tour operators seem to have been in locations that were spared the
most serious destruction and loss of life. As a result, while not
minimizing the suffering and damage, some of the nations battered
by the killer walls of water have moved aggressively to reach tour
operators, retail agents and the traveling public with reassuring
“We face an educational challenge,” said Santi Chudintra,
director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, in Los Angeles.
He refuted news reports that gave the impression, for example,
that the entire resort island of Phuket was essentially destroyed.
Of the 33,587 hotel rooms on Phuket and in the mainland cities of
Phang Nga and Rabi, he pointed out that some 53 percent are open
and in service. These are in such popular beach spots as Karon,
Kata, Patong and Ka Lim, among others. Chudintra predicted that
even damaged properties will be rebuilt soon, and that within three
months tourists will begin to return to the resort island.
Agreeing with that assessment is Andrew K. Miller, senior vice
president, Pacific Delight World Tours, in New York City. His
company has been selling Thailand for some 34 years and describes
the destination as “hot.”
“If there is aggressive marketing and education, near normal
tourism will return to Thailand and some other impacted areas in
from three to six months,” he predicted. But it won’t just happen
by itself, he cautioned. “Countries and tourism organizations have
to get in front of the curve and deal proactively. Everyone has to
do a lot more in terms of education.”
Miller noted that his company did not suffer a single true
cancellation in the wake of the disaster. Clients on the various
12- and 18-day Asia tours either postponed their departures and
rebooked for later dates or took such offered alternative
destinations as China or Australia.
“We didn’t lose any business,” he said.
Thailand’s Chudintra said: “Phuket is some 60 kilometers long
and perhaps 40 kilometers wide and only the western beachfront area
was affected. But many people thought the entire island was totally
From its Bangkok headquarters, the Pacific Asia Travel
Association (PATA) made those same points, saying quite
specifically that: “This is not an Asian crisis; it is a crisis
confined to some parts of the Indian Ocean. It is business as usual
across most of Asia and in most parts of the affected
James Ferguson, PATA’s director for North America, urged agents
to let their customers know that trips are going throughout the
rest of the region.
“Visitors are likely to receive an extra warm welcome,” he
He suggested, too, that agents check the PATA Web site for daily
To get the word out that it is quickly recovering and ready to
receive visitors, the Tourism Authority of Thailand already planned
“crisis recovery and marketing campaigns” to include participation
at ITB in March. Fam trips for key agents and operators are already
For its part, the ASEAN Tourism Association, organizer of the
ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), plans to go ahead with its gathering on
the Malaysia island of Langkawi Jan. 21-29. Some 1,500 delegates
are expected along with 400 suppliers who will participate in the
Asean Travel Exchange (TRAVEX).