The United Nations tourism agency has once again called on the world’s media to help promote a resurgence of the industry in the Indian Ocean countries devastated by last year’s tsunami by informing the public on the progress made such as refurbished hotels, new tourism products and safety improvements.
“The media is also requested to use restraint when showing pictures of last year’s disaster, so that tourists will not be scared off for a second time,” the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said in a statement noting that hotel room capacity and air seat capacity to Thailand’s Andaman coast, Sri Lanka and the Maldives is still substantially lower than before the tragedy.
“The return of tourists to the tsunami-affected countries is the best way to help local communities recover from the tragedy,” it added.
In an appeal to the media in March, UNWTO sought to avoid what it called a new “infodemic,” a repeat of the slump in Asian tourism from the SARS health crisis two years earlier when travel dropped sharply during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000 worldwide, the vast majority of them in China.
In its latest statement, issued ahead of the anniversary of the 26 December tsunami, the agency noted that recovery of tourist arrivals to affected beach resorts has been sluggish. Official statistics show arrivals to Phuket, Thailand, down by 50 per cent in August, October arrivals to the Maldives down by 23 per cent and foreign guest nights along Sri Lanka’s south coast down by 53 per cent in August.
But beach resorts in all three countries are reporting forward bookings for December and January between 80 and 90 per cent. Diminished capacity is most evident in Thailand; on Phi Phi Island only 400 rooms are available compared to 2,000 before the tsunami and in hard-hit Khao Lak fewer than 500 of the 6,000 rooms have been reopened.
Indonesia presents a different recovery curve. As tourism facilities were not damaged in the tsunami that destroyed Banda Aceh, arrivals to Bali actually increased from March through September. Terrorist attacks on 1 October drove tourism down once again by an estimated 37 per cent that month. But officials are hopeful that the recovery will be quicker than after the 2002 Bali bombings, due to stepped-up security and improved communications.