|By Sujintana Hemtasilpa, Bangkok Post, Thailand|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 24, 2005 - Six months after the Dec 26 tsunami hit Thailand's Andaman shoreline, and with the peak tourist travelling season over, the region that once was the country's most popular destination is still almost dead quiet. There is barely a sign of business activity, particularly in those tourism and hospitality sectors.
The rainy season began early in May. Throughout the day, brief showers interrupt outdoor activities. Along the shoreline, the Andaman monsoon has turned the calm, turquoise seas into rough, greyish waves that crash onto the beaches. Local authorities have put up signs warning residents and tourists that it is too dangerous to swim on several beaches.
At the memorial wood wall in the compound of the Maikao mortuary, which was set apart for relatives and friends of international tsunami victims to express their bereavement, dolls, toys and some crayon boxes with mud stains -- presumably belonging to missing children -- are placed at the wall as remembrance.
The rains have washed away the mud stains on those small tokens. Five months ago, this was a crowded place. Now it scarcely has visitors.
Not only tourists have left. Tsunami victims' relatives and friends, and most workers from humanitarian organisations have also departed.
Locals who had been making a living on tourism-related businesses up to Dec 26, some living the good and even extravagant life, say they now have to be very cautious about spending. The number of visitors who come to purchase products and services has dropped sharply compared with last year.
"We don't know how long the situation is going to be like this, and we can't afford reckless spending anymore," says Boonyord, a rental car driver.
"We just have to be patient and try to scrape by until the next peak season," said Premludee Saksiripaisalsin, a fashion product vendor.
According to Napasorn Kakai, assistant director of the Region 4 Office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the number of tourists visiting Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi provinces has dropped by more than 70 percent during the past six months, when compared with the same period last year.
There are 39,500 registered hotel rooms available in the three provinces. The current occupancy rate averages 20 percent nightly.
Half of those who come to the region are the staff of humanitarian organisations, still performing disaster relief and development work, and the rest are nearly all professionals and civil servants who are in the the area to attend meetings and conferences, said Ms Napasorn.
"Leisure visitors represent a very small portion," she added.
Until the tsunami hit, tourism to Andaman beaches, particularly Phuket, had become year-round, said Ms Napasorn.
European and North American tourists flocked to the three Andaman provinces from October to April, the period referred to by people in the tourism businesses in the area as the "high season." Nevertheless, during the "low season", tourists from Asian countries, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand took up the slack.
Australians and New Zealanders come to escape the cold weather in their countries during this period, while people from the Middle East come to enjoy the rain.
"They don't see rain as much as us in their home countries," said Ms Napasorn.
This year, most Asian tourists have opted to go somewhere else. Many Asians, especially those from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, believe that they will have bad luck if they visit a disaster site, she said.
That makes it very quiet in this part of the South.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Bangkok Post, Thailand
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