Sat, Jan 01, 2005 - Page 10 News List

Disaster unlikely to boost local tourism

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The killer waves and earthquake catastrophe that struck South Asia on Sunday is not expected to boost tourism in Taiwan, industry veterans said yesterday.

"There will be no such effect on domestic tours, as some have speculated over the past week," said Andy Huang (黃信川), vice president at Lion Travel Service Co (雄獅旅行社), one of the nation's top travel agencies.

Many tourists have canceled trips to the disaster-stricken areas, such as the Thai island of Phuket, or shifted their destinations to Langkawi of Malaysia or the Indonesian island of Bali, he added.

"They just want to spend the New Year holidays abroad and nothing will change their minds," Huang noted.

According to the Tourism Bureau's statistics, Taiwanese people took 105 million domestic trips last year, while foreign trips only numbered 8 million during the same period, including trips taken by China-based businesspeople.

The wide discrepancy in these figures suggests that it is not very likely that a single incident would create marked fluctuations in tourist volumes, Huang said.

Ming Chen (陳明明), deputy marketing manager of Star Travel Corp (燦星旅遊網), said Taiwanese tend to visit Japan, China or Bangkok in the winter, while the outbound market to Phuket often sees weak demand at the same time.

One day after the deadly tidal waves struck the Asian nations, the Tourism Bureau announced that people who have purchased tour packages to Phuket, the Maldives and Sri Lanka can demand refunds, excluding tour agencies' administrative expenditures.

As UNI Airways (立榮) and China Airlines (華航) have decided to halt flights to Phuket until Jan. 20 and Jan. 31, respectively, the refund period will be extended as well, said Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary general of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan (旅行公會全國聯合會).

"It's hard to say how long it will take for these damaged areas to get on their feet again, but the tourism bureau has appealed to the public to avoid Phuket for three weeks," Hsu said.

Don Birch, chief executive officer of regional ticketing service provider Abacus in Singapore, said it is expected that the short-term impact for several holiday destinations will be devastating, especially in the Maldives, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka and Phuket.

"But we know from experience that the recovery-time is surprisingly short and that we can expect a full recovery within a year," he told the Taipei Times via e-mail.

"While next year's travelers will be more cautious in making their travel selections, we can expect to have a tsunami-warning system in place relatively quickly," Birch said.

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