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UN Plans to Revive Asian Tourism After Tsunami

  • Ron Corben

The U.N. World Tourism Organization has set out plans to revive Asia's tourism industry, which was battered by the December 26 tsunami. The plans were drawn at an emergency meeting in Thailand of the tourism organization's 29-member council.

Tourism ministers and officials meeting this week in Thailand backed the U.N. World Tourism Organization's plans to help get Asia's tourism industry back on its feet after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

The emergency meeting of the 29-member executive council drafted the "Phuket Action Plan," with measures to protect jobs in the tourism sector and support smaller tourism operators.

Despite the huge loss of life and property due to the tsunami, many tourist areas of the affected countries escaped damage, and many of the damaged areas have repaired the physical damage and are prepared to accept new guests.

But media reports of the devastation - especially in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, three major tourist destinations - have led to a sharp decline in tourist arrivals.

Hotel occupancy rates on Thailand's resort island of Phuket have slumped by as much as 90 percent, although most hotels and other infrastructure on the island are operating normally.

The plan includes special promotions to spread the news that most resorts are operational. Peter de Jong, chief executive officer of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, cited the Maldives as an example of a place where the physical damage was relatively mild, but the tourist industry was devastated.

"The impact economically on the Maldives - which has had relatively little damage - is great, and so the message that needs to go out on behalf of these destinations has to be quite sophisticated and quite different from one place to another," he said.

South Korea pledged $400,000 to help fund the plan, while the World Bank is providing credit of up to $2.5 million to rebuild businesses in the affected areas.

Mr. de Jong says that because of emergency measures by the United Nations and other organizations, the outlook is optimistic for recovery of the industry later this year. "We believe that in four or five months we will look at this whole situation in the perspective of still a huge and dramatic humanitarian tragedy, but also of a recovered and alert and busy again tourism industry," he said.

Asia's tourism industry employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates vast amounts of foreign revenue.

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