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UNWTO Tsunami Recovery: One year on

Nearly one year later, countries affected by the December 26 tsunami…

Nearly one year later, countries affected by the December 26 tsunami – Indonesia – Maldives, Sri Lanka – Thailand – are optimistic that a strong winter season marked by high occupancy rates will finally put an end to the lingering crisis that has dragged down arrivals and tourism revenues over the past 11 months.

But a UNWTO assessment of the post-tsunami recovery, which was presented to the recently concluded General Assembly in Dakar, Senegal, indicates 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. It concludes that a full recovery will not be possible until capacity is fully restored sometime in 2006.

The study is part of the Phuket Action Plan for the revival of tourism to the tsunami-affected countries, including Indonesia. The plan was created at the special emergency meeting of the UNWTO Executive Council in Phuket last January. It laid the groundwork for an unprecedented series of nearly 40 tourism recovery projects that included activities such as fam trips, market research, communications initiatives, seminars, safety reviews, planning assistance and the organization of the TOURCOM Regional Conference on Tourism Communications in Bali last May.

Recovery of tourist arrivals to beach resorts hit by the tsunami has been sluggish. The most recent official statistics show arrivals to Phuket still down by 50% in August, while October arrivals to the Maldives were still down by 23% and foreign guest nights along Sri Lanka’s south coast were still down by 53% in August. But beach resorts in all three countries are reporting forward bookings for December and January between 80-90%. 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% that month. But officials are hopeful that the recovery will be quicker than following the 2002 Bali bombings, due to stepped-up security and improved communications.

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