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Aftereffects of the Tsunami

POST-TSUNAMI TOURISM: Phuket struggles to reverse slump

Published on June 27, 2005 (The Nation)

Visitors to resort island and surrounding areas still a fraction of normal number

Phuket has already lost at least Bt60 billion in tourism revenue in the six months since the tsunami ravaged the island together with other provinces in the South.

The tsunami's impact on the tourism industry on the island has led to the closure of over 400 hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, leaving over 5,000 people unemployed.

Thailand Tourism Council president Wichit Na Ranong said hotels in Phuket were now witnessing an average occupancy rate of between 10 and 15 per cent, down from 60 to 70 per cent in the same period last year.

The island and its closest mainland provinces, including Krabi and Phang Nga, are still suffering from a huge decrease in tourist arrivals.

"Many international airlines have closed their operations in Phuket, while only 20 per cent of the tourist services and related businesses in Phang Nga are in operation," Wichit said late last week.

His remark came only a day after Hong Kong-based Dragonair's announcement of its plans to close its Phuket office next month in the wake of the sharp drop in numbers of passengers flying to Phuket.

South Korea's two leading air carriers, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, will also suspend their direct flights to Phuket this week.

Wichit noted that prior to the tsunami, Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga attracted more than 4 million tourists a year and generated combined revenue of Bt120 billion. And despite the government's efforts, including the sale of cheap tour packages by Thai Airways International, he does not expect a fast recovery.

"I expect Phuket to remain in this situation until the end of this year."

The southern beaches' high season will resume in October.

Despite discussions among the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), the Thai Travel Agents Association and the Thai Hotels Association, held under the guidance of Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Thepsuthin, the several strategies that have been developed have failed to revive the industry so far.

According to figures from the tourism authority, Phuket International Airport recorded 159,423 tourist arrivals between January and May this year, compared to 487,419 arrivals during the same period last year, a drop 67 per cent.

On a monthly basis, the airport received 12,459 arrivals in January, down 92.21 per cent from 160,029, February saw 35,659 arrivals, down 62.08 per cent from 94,048, March, 49,839, down from 82,034; April 30,849, down from 78,229 and May 30,849, down from 73,082.

In the meantime, Don Muang International Airport received 3,184,496 visitors this year, compared to 3,182,481 last year, an increase of just 0.06 per cent.

Statistics from all entry points to Thailand showed that visitors from January to March dropped by 10.12 per cent from 2,974,692 arrivals last year to 2,673,732 this year.

Apichart Sankary, ATTA's president of in-bound tour operators, said the tourist industry had failed to reach its targeted figure of 12 million tourists this year due to poor marketing strategies, especially in the areas of security matters and promotional activities.

"Overseas tourists, especially Japanese and European, are waiting for confirmation of better tsunami safety measures," said Apichart.

However, ATTA has been informed that some chartered flights from Australia will return to Phuket during July and September this year and that significant numbers of Hong Kong tourists would also revisit the island.

Aneke Srishevachert, ATTA'S president of out-bound tourist operators, said that while foreign tourists stay away, domestic tourists are also opting to visit overseas destinations.

China, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore are becoming favourite destinations because of cheap tour packages as a result of the governments' subsidies to promote their tourism industries, he said.

Like others in the public and private sectors, Aneke hopes that foreign visitors will return in the last quarter of this year when the high season resumes. Phuket's reputation as the Pearl of the Andaman Sea relies on it.

Suchat Sritama

Source : The Nation



Tsunami five months on : Tourists still keep distance

[Reports in Thai newspapers are still very contradictory. Often there seem to be short statements by 'officials' indicating that all is rosy, and tourists are coming back in droves. As the article below indicates, maybe they try to talk themselves and the tourism industry out of trouble, but are not successful]

Published on May 30, 2005

Cheap hotel rates fail to spark recovery

Five months after Thailand's most popular tourist destinations were struck by a devastating tsunami, foreign tourists still have not returned and local businesses are struggling to stay afloat.

Although hotels are offering big reduction on room rates - with 30 per cent the norm - there are few tourists around to take up these offers.

Resort workers and locals on Phi Phi Island welcome the few visitors that have made it to the island.

"We never used to have a low season on Phi Phi. It was busy all year round. Now you can almost count the tourists," said Jannee Jandamnernpong, a diving instructor.

His diving shop suffered only slight damage during the tsunami and he managed to stay in business. But business has become so bad, it is hardly worth the effort.

While up to 400 divers a month flocked to Phi Phi before the tsunami, the island is now lucky if 40 a month show up.

Sudjai Nukaeo, the owner of an Internet caf? on the island, is having problems just trying to break even.

"Today, I earned only Bt800. But I have to pay Bt20,000 a month for rent and then there is the electricity bill and Internet connection payments."

Most of the 2,000 hotel rooms on the island before the December 26 tsunami were destroyed. There has been very little rebuilding and only a few hotels are operating.

Patricia Bonislawski, a tourist from Germany, said she was surprised to see how little had been done to revive the island.

"If you wander through the streets you still see the destruction and debris. I'm not going to sunbath next to a construction site."

However, in Phuket's tourist centre of Patong things are nearly back to normal.

There was still some damage remaining near the beaches, but 90 per cent of the reconstruction has been completed, said Mathee Tanmanatragul, the former president of the southern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association.

Only 20 out of the 300 hotels on Phuket were still closed, he said.

However, the hotel occupancy rate in Phuket isn't any better than on Phi Phi. While normal occupancy in low season is around 50 to 60 per cent, only 25 per cent of the rooms are taken on the island at the moment.

The business people of Patong are frustrated.

Ravin Sethichaiyen, owner of a Subway restaurant in Patong, said his takings are well down from the same period last year.

"Everything is well equipped [for tourism]. Please come and help us, we need you," he appealed to tourists.

The few tourists in Phuket are mainly from the United States and Australia.

John Gray, who offers canoeing trips in Phang Nga Bay, said European visitors who usually arrive in droves at this time of year are virtually non-existent.

He said Europeans simply misunderstand the distances involved.

"They saw on TV how big the destruction was on Phi Phi and Khao Lak, but they don't realise that Phuket suffered a lot less damaged.

Khao Lak is as far from Phuket as Manchester is from London," he said.

"So, if 200 people died in an industrial disaster in Manchester would you cancel your trip to London? Of course not. So, why are people not coming to Phuket?"

Asian tourists are as thin on the ground as Europeans.

Kitti Phatanachinda, vice-president of Phuket Tourist Association, said this was because Asians believe it is bad luck to visit the site of a recent disaster. They believe in the spirit world, which means that if they visit a tragic place they will bring the bad luck back home with them.

He said Phuket probably suffered the most economically from the tsunami.

"Phuket was very hard hit because 80 per cent of the people depend on tourism for their livelihoods. Now that the tourists have gone, the economy is on a downturn."

Thirty per cent of Thailand's annual tourism income came from Phuket. But since the tsunami, there has been 77-per-cent less arrivals at Phuket airport and 300,000 people lost their jobs.

Still, people are hoping things will return to normal and the tourists will return to Phuket and Phi Phi for the high season, which begins in November.

But Mathee said Khao Lak would need at least two years to get back on its feet.

"The first tsunami was here and it was gone in an hour. The second "tsunami" in terms of human misery and economic disaster far exceeded the tsunami itself," said Gray.

The tsunami hasn't been out of the people's minds.

"We still talk about the tsunami every day with friends, family or tourists, anyone who wants to know how it was," said Sybilla Endemann, from the Oasis restaurant in Phi Phi.

Silke Kujas

Source : The Nation


The following article just recently appeared in the Nation newspaper, and gives the first clear picture of the effect of the Tsunami on tourism in the south of Thailand (around Phuket) :

TSUNAMI DAMAGE : 800,000 tourist trips cancelled

Published on May 05, 2005

December disaster cost Kingdom a total of Bt11 billion in revenue in first quarter

The December tsunami turned 800,000 tourists away from Thailand in the first quarter, with total loss of revenue of Bt11 billion.

Tourism and Sports Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said yesterday the tsunami was the main factor that caused many international tourists to cancel trips in the first three months of the year.

The disaster devastated tourist areas in six provinces on the Andaman coast, including world-class destinations such as Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Khao Lak. Between 30 and 40 per cent of last year's total of 12 million tourists visited the Andaman coast.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), average spending by tourists in such areas is Bt3,700 per head per day, and each tourist stays about one week.

The TAT originally expected 2.7 million tourists to visit the Kingdom in the first three months of the year, but only 1.9 million came.

Somsak said that to achieve the tourism target of 13.3 million visitors this year, he had ordered the TAT to set up two special working groups.

The first will work on marketing strategies for the second and third quarters, while the second group will create a strategy for the final quarter, which is expected to bring four million tourists during the high season.

A third team will concentrate on plans for next year, when the Tourism and Sports Ministry wants to see 20-per-cent growth in the number of people visiting Thailand.

A fourth group will have responsibility for long-term development, and setting the tourism industry on the right track for 20 years into the future.

Somsak also instructed the TAT to study means of attracting more tourists during the low season.

"I though we could turn our rainy season into a new tourism product - the romantic season," he said. "The idea is the same as that in Brazil's forest, where they have found success in the rainy season."

Suchat Sritama

The Nation

(article from the Nation)


Comments :

Interestingly this is the really first time that numbers are really given. Up to now, it was frequently stated that the impact of the Tsunami on tourism was rather limited and that tourists were coming back en masse. This must have been wishful thinking. Possibly declaring this optimism was a strategy to coach potential visitors into coming to the country, but it did not really work. Personally we regret the attention given by both local and foreign authorities to promoting tourism almost immediately after the disaster struck. In life there should be time for contemplation and introspection, and it should be possible to forgo financial considerations at times for this purpose.

We do think that tourists are coming back at this very moment, if bookings through our affiliated hotel reservations website is any guidance.

As for a possible repeat of the tragedy, alarm systems have been installed in the relevant areas (they will have to be further updated in the near future). This should alleviate fears of potential visitors, although fear makes people behaving in an irrational way.

As an aftercomment, geology seems to be a science that is still in its infancy. There seems to be no adequate estimate of the potential of a tsunami disaster striking again or not. We guess there are two views, the first one (which we find more likely) is that lightning does not strike twice, and that the next tsunami is probably only due in the next century or so. The other view might be that the area around the Indonesian islands has become 'unstable' and that further calamities are waiting to happen in the near future. It is not quite easy to understand why scientists have no assessments about whether a repeat is likely or not. Your guess is probably as good as mine, or as any of the people knowledgeable in the field.


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