Political violence has done considerable damage to tourism in Asia and
the Pacific over the past few years. But industry experts say the
damage is not necessarily permanent. Governments and industry leaders say much can be done to rebuild
tattered tourism reputations.
As the world watched, a small
band of terrorists killed scores in Mumbai last November. Although
India has often suffered from political violence, this attack - aimed
largely at travelers and foreigners - was a new horror.
globally televised attack, coming during an international economic
slump, contributed to an eight percent fall in tourist arrivals this
In Thailand, tens of thousands of anti-government
protesters laid siege to Bangkok's airports late last year, essentially
trapping more than 350,000 travelers in the country for a week. Before
that shock had worn off, a few months later, another group of
protesters led violent riots in Bangkok.
The two incidents
added to the damage from the world economy cut tourist arrivals to
Thailand by 20 percent in the first six months of 2009.
Manoharn, the chairwoman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association,
says many tourists still worry that Thailand's political tensions could
spoil their visits.
"When people saw any demonstration like
that they associate with the closing of the airport," said Manoharn.
"Even [though] we don't close [the airport] but they look like the
demonstration, that they might and that's why they're afraid."
is important to the Asia-Pacific region. In Southeast Asia, it
contributes over three percent to economic output. In some parts of the
region, tourism accounts for 10 percent of employment; in the Pacific
island nations of Fiji and Vanuatu, the figure is over 30 percent.
But as India and Thailand have seen, violence and instability quickly scare away visitors.
Recovery comes, but usually more slowly than after natural disasters.
John Koldowski is PATA's communications director.
we have seen in many cases is where there is some sort of intervention
effect - it's been natural or no fault of anybody - the rebound has
been very quick," he said. "Where there has been intent to cause harm
as in the case of a say terrorist attack - and where there has been a
long history of such attacks occurring in that destination or nearby
destination, it takes a little longer to come back."
the right government and industry responses, visitors will return. For
instance, in October 2002, bombs set off by Islamic militants on the
island of Bali killed more than 200 people, most of them foreigners.
The island, one of the world's most famous tourist destinations, saw
arrivals fall by 36 percent in 2003.
Koldowski said the first bombings shocked the tourism industry.
is a classic case there - it took some time [to recover] because it had
never occurred there before - it was so dramatic and affected specific
western tourists," he said.
But the Indonesian government
cracked down on terrorists and boosted security. And tourism industry
professionals worked hard to woo back visitors. When another attack
three years later left 20 people dead, PATA reported that tourist
arrivals were little affected.
And twin bombings at international hotels in Jakarta last July are expected to do little damage to tourism.
In South Asia, Sri Lanka and Nepal hope the end of long-running conflicts will entice more visitors.
Lankan officials say the end of a civil war earlier this year brought a
surge of interest from foreign investors and hotel operators.
Mudadeniya, Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Bureau managing director, says
there are opportunities for tourism, particularly in areas long closed
off by the war.
"North and east, which have not actually taken
any kind of development for the last 20 years, virgin beaches, land,
monuments is available and the people also come and exploit something
or look at something totally undiscovered," said Mudadeniya. "We are
going on the line which is 'undiscovered, unspoiled, an island of
authenticity', which we can offer."
In Nepal, political agreements have ended a Maoist insurgency that lasted more than a decade.
minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation, Sharatsingh Bhandari, says
Nepal's transition from conflict to peace is in itself a tourism draw.
we are going to form a new Nepal. So giving the message for the New
Nepal and inviting the people to see, not only the prospect of tourism
itself but even the process of transition of the political system from
'bullet to ballot.' That was done successfully by the Nepalese
themselves," he said.
Industry analysts say tourism in Asia is
likely to expand rapidly over the next few years. But, the key, they
say, is that governments find ways to prevent political violence, and
act quickly to calm fears when it does happen.