|By Sujintana Hemtasilpa, Bangkok Post, Thailand
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 10, 2005 - Still confident in the tourism prospects of the Andaman region, the operators of Le Me'ridien Khao Lak Beach and Spa Resort expect to reopen in October after extensive renovations.
Executives hope the reopening will help revive tourist prospects for the area, one of the hardest hit along the Andaman coast during the Dec 26 tsunami.
Werner Senft, area director of sales and marketing for London-based Le Me'ridien Resorts, said it was important that Le Me'ridien Khao Lak resume business as it could trigger a revival in Khao Lak where a lot of people working in the tourism business lost their jobs.
Mr Senft would not forecast the occupancy at Le Me'ridien Khao Lak once it reopened but said several resorts now operating in the area were already experiencing high occupancy.
Two properties managed by Le Me'ridien Thailand Resorts -- Le Me'ridien Phuket Beach Resort and Le Me'ridien Khao Lak -- have been closed for seven months for tsunami-related repairs.
Le Me'ridien Khao Lak was first opened in November 2004, only one month before the tidal wave struck.
According to Mr Senft, Le Me'ridien Phuket Beach Resort, owned by Singapore-based Relax Beach Co, has undergone a 280-million-baht renovation, while the renovation cost of the Thai-owned Le Me'ridien Khao Lak in Phangnga was estimated to have been double that amount.
He said he was certain that the tourism industry in Phuket and Khao Lak would recover from the slump, with Phuket back to normal in 2006 and Khao Lak reviving more gradually.
"A holiday destination develops because of its values. The values of the beaches, occasions, the people, food, the temperature. All these values exist before and after the tsunami in the same way. Therefore, there is no reason whatsoever for a destination like this not to move forward," he said.
The only problem that could slow the recovery in the region is the fact that the number of airline flights arriving at Phuket has dropped by 50 percent since January, making it more difficult for travellers to get airline seats to Phuket.
Mr Senft anticipated, however, that when more tourists returned to the region in the coming winter, airlines would incrementally increase the number of flights. At least one, Dragonair of Hong Kong, has revealed its plan to resume its operation to Phuket in October.
Mr Senft expects Le Me'ridien Phuket to have an average occupancy rate of 20 percent through mid-October, rising to 50 percent during the high season that starts in November.
But occupancy is still expected to be at least a quarter lower than last year's figure, he said.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Bangkok Post, Thailand
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