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Importance of Tourism Sector

Most of the areas worst hit by the tsunami depend on tourism to support its economy. Among them, Maldives is most badly affected. Tourism contributes to as much as 72.1% of the country's GDP. An estimated 64.4% of the population's livelihood depends on tourism and related industries. Tourism also contributes significantly to the economies of other affected nations such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. UN's World Tourism Organization's (WTO) Secretary-General, Francesco Frangialli has remarked that the disaster "was the greatest catastrophe ever recorded in the history of world tourism".

Phuket Action Plan

Therefore, countries hit by the tsunami are appealing to the international community to help in the reconstruction process by booking a holiday to the region. The WTO has said tourism was the best form of aid the international community could give to affected areas.

During the talks held by the WTO executive council on 1st February in Phuket, tourism experts have drafted a plan, which aims to draw the tourist back to the tsunami stricken areas. The agreement is named the "Phuket Action Plan", and includes a comprehensive series of activities, which focuses on saving jobs in the tourism industry, re-launching tourism-related businesses, and increasing visitor numbers.

Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, who had attended the meeting, was full of praise for the plan, saying, "The livelihood of thousands of people living in the affected areas depends on tourism and their livelihood cannot return to normal if they cannot earn their living from tourism. Our task is to return trust and confidence to the international community of tourism."

Participants in the meeting appealed to the international community to support the implementation of the Plan through financial aid, contribution of materials, or the loan of expert staff. 14 countries have pledged assistance for the plan. International organizations such as the International Finance Corporation and the United Nations Development Programme have also promised support.

Quick Recovery Expected

Only the coastal areas were badly hit by the waves, and 70% of the tourist areas are intact. However, the tourism sector is suffering. In Maldives, hotel bookings are 50% that of pre-disaster periods, even though only 3 tourists were killed in the disaster. Hotel rooms in Thailand, which suffered the largest number of tourist deaths, have an occupancy rate of only 20%. Travel to affected areas in Thailand is down by a third.

Still, experts are optimistic of a quick recovery. Bali took only a year to recover from the nightclub bombing in 2002. Tourism in Asia was back in full force after the SARS outbreak in 2003.


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