South Asia One Year On

Just 12 months after the tsunami, tour operators and the region's holiday destinations are claiming that bookings are healthy. Ian Taylor reports

It seems almost unimaginable that tourism to the countries hit by the tsunami last Boxing Day could have recovered within a year. But recover it has. Tour operators and tourism offices say every Indian Ocean destination is open for business and looking forward to a busy January.

Most of the disaster's more than 200,000 fatalities were in Aceh, in Indonesia, which was not on the tourist trail. Holiday resorts in the Maldives, Thailand and Sri Lanka saw varying degrees of destruction, but it was generally localised and confined to the coastline.

The Maldives has been up and running since February. The geography of the low-lying islands and their surrounding coral saved them from widespread damage. Most of Thailand was unaffected, and the areas which were - parts of Phuket and the island of Phi Phi - are not just re-opened but back in tour operators' brochures. Khao Lak, which suffered most, may not be fully restored, but the resort's five-star Sarojin Hotel will be full over the Christmas period. "Phuket, Phi Phi and Krabi are looking better than ever. You really wouldn't know anything had happened," said a spokeswoman for the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Sri Lanka suffered 30,000 deaths, yet the disaster, which struck the east coast and swept around the south and south-west of the island, avoided most of the tourist resorts. Jean-Marc Flambert, UK director of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, said, "Ninety per cent of the beach hotels are on the west coast, between Negombo and Bentota, and were hardly hit. They were running the next day."

It was south of here, at Galle, that footage of the tsunami sweeping in was captured on video. Further along the coast, a train was swept from the track resulting in heavy loss of life. Yet, according to Flambert, the beaches, hotels and transport are now restored.

Tour operators are equally upbeat. Kuoni anticipates sales to the affected areas should be back to pre-tsunami levels by January, and Thomas Cook reports bookings to Thailand on a par with a year ago. "It's taken a while for people to feel comfortable about going back to Phuket. But our portfolio is unchanged and Christmas has sold as well as usual," said a Thomas Cook spokeswoman.

Upmarket operator ITC Classics has seen strong demand for the Maldives and insists that, despite the expectation of bargains in Thailand, there has been no great drop in prices. All operators believe holidaymakers are ready to return, despite the anniversary.

Conditions for many locals, however, will not measure up to those for visitors. Oxfam has reported on the tendency for aid to go to businesses and landowners rather than those in most need. But changing that situation would require a switch in priorities not just in the Indian Ocean.

The desire to help remains strong, with gap-year specialists reporting a boom in volunteers to join restoration work. Holidaymakers who wish to do the same could contact the relevant national tourism office for details of organisations such as the Tsunami Volunteer Center in Thailand.

A spokeswoman for Kuoni said: "We could offer advice to someone who wanted to help, put them in contact with local contractors and help along the way." But she insisted visitors should not feel guilty about having a good time. "It's about jobs and livelihoods now," she said.

"You help Sri Lanka by visiting," says Flambert. "Many hotel staff are from affected areas and the 10 per cent service charge on bills makes up two-thirds of people's salaries." ITC Classics marketing director Emma Mansfield added, "Nothing can take away the tragedy, but people have children to feed. They want you to feel welcome. They need tourism."

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine