Southeast Asian governments urged foreigners yesterday not to scrap vacation plans over tsunami concerns, saying the region is taking steps to ensure that its resorts and beaches are safe.
Tourism ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began a two-day meeting on Malaysia's Langkawi island on how to revive their industry from its latest setback, which followed earlier scares due to SARS, terrorism and avian influenza.
Many foreign tourists died when the Dec. 26 tsunami swept coastlines in Asia and Africa, killing between 162,000 and 228,000 people in 11 countries.
"There's a feeling of grief and sadness and fear among tourists right now, but our assurance is we're taking steps to make our beaches safer, like creating a tsunami early warning system," Malaysian Tourism Minister Leo Michael Toyad said.
ASEAN members will cooperate to promote their region as "one big tourism destination," inviting international travel writers to attractive destinations and sending video clips overseas to lure potential visitors, Toyad said.
Krirk-Krai Jirapaet, Thailand's vice minister of tourism, said ASEAN hopes to offset the plunge in foreign tourists by boosting travel within the region by local citizens who understand that safety should not be a worry.
Thailand will likely lose about 30 billion baht (US$780 million) in tourism revenue following the tsunami, he said.
"We need the psychological trauma to subside a little bit," he said.
"We can't bring the tourists back by tomorrow. So we are aiming for this by the end of year, rather than next week or next month," he said.
Tourism is a big money-earner for Southeast Asia. It generated US$27.7 billion in 2002 for ASEAN -- excluding Brunei -- or 4.8 percent of its GDP.
Before the tsunami, the ASEAN Tourism Association expected nearly 50 million tourists to visit this year, with the number projected to rise to 56 million next year.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Jero Wacik said his country expects six million visitors this year, up from 5.3 million last year.