Thailand tourism assessing the impact of tidal wave flooding

Thailand's tourist industry is braced for a short-term drop in business along its popular Andaman coastline where Sunday's tsunami struck. The island of Phuket was among the top draws for the 10 million foreigners who visited Thailand in 2003.

But as workers began clearing debris from Phuket's beachfront streets Monday, analysts predicted that tourism would bounce back in a few months. The beachfront hotels hit are only 5-10 percent of Thailand's total number of hotels.

"The reality is just a few of the island resorts took the full brunt of [the waves], but in others the impact was zero," says John Kodowski of the Pacific-Asia Travel Association in Bangkok. But, he adds, "it will be a huge cleanup operation."

Analysts agree that the economic cost to Thailand and the other nations will be much smaller than the human toll. "I do see some near-term impact from the unfortunate event but we're not about to cut growth rates in response to it," Lian Chia Liang, an economist at JP Morgan Chase in Singapore, told Reuters.

In Thailand, much still depends on how quickly infrastructure can be restored in resorts inundated with sea water and debris. Hotel owners are just beginning to assess the damage to their properties and figure out how long repairs will take to complete, says Suparerk Soorangura, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents. "You're talking at least this season before [affected] hotels and resorts can bring back customers," he says. Thailand's tourist season runs November-March.

Tourists who returned to their hotels after the flood waters receded say the wreckage was hard to comprehend. "It was dirty and nothing was working. No water, nothing," says Peter Remschneg, an Austrian on vacation in Phuket with his wife.

Mr. Suparerk says travel agents were diverting thousands of inbound tourists to resorts on Thailand's eastern coastline that were unaffected by the tsunamis. He says the tourist industry should unite to persuade travelers not to cancel their visits to Thailand. But Thai Airways has offered to refund tickets without penalties to foreign tourists.

Tourism accounts for 6 percent of Thailand's economy, says Andrew Stotz at Macquarie Securities in Bangkok.

"Is this a recurrent risk? No, my guess is that people will see this as a one-off, a freak event. They will be back," he says.

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