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."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam