The vital tourist sector in countries hard hit by last month's Indian Ocean tidal wave is likely to recover quicker than expected and the overall impact of the disaster on global tourism should be limited, industry analysts predict.
"Experience has shown that after emergency situations tourism comes back more rapidly and more substantially than was initially foreseen," Luigi Cabrini, European representative to the World Tourism Organization, told a conference in Lisbon last week.
The Dec. 26 tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and elsewhere and killed an estimated 220,000 people should have "limited impact on world tourism," he said.
"In the very short term, some tourists who planned to pass their holidays in areas hit by the tsunami will abandon their plans."
In those cases, Cabrini said, "tourists change their destinations for areas that have similar characteristics" (to those hit by the tsunami) and "those who decide not to go now will decide to go back later."
Gilles de Robien, French minister of transport and tourism, said French tour operators "have a great desire to restore links with these countries," several of which depend heavily on tourism revenues.
In Germany, according to a poll conducted by the Emnid Institute, 77 percent of those questioned said it was important that tourism continue in the countries affected by the earthquake and flood.
TUI, Europe's leading tour operator, has said it will begin bringing tourists back to Sri Lanka and to the Thai island of Phuket in early February, while rival Thomas Cook of Germany plans to restore flights to the two destinations on Feb. 5.
German agencies have said tourists were also opting for other areas of the world, namely the Caribbean, Jamaica, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica and South Africa.
While Swedish tourists are now reserving holiday time elsewhere, with the Canary Islands and Brazil their destinations of choice, charter flights from Sweden to Thailand are expected to resume from Feb. 1.
Sweden, with a population of eight million, lost 52 of its nationals in the tsunami, with 800 listed as missing. The cost to the Swedish travel industry of the tidal wave came to US$36 million, according to an estimate by the tour operator Apollo.
British tour operators, who have cancelled flights to quake-hit areas of Sri Lanka and Thailand until Jan. 31, have said their clients are now choosing holidays in the Caribbean, Egypt and Dubai.
For Austrians, demand for bookings in north Africa, mainly Morocco and Tunisia, is up sharply, according to the Die Reisewelt agency. Italians, meanwhile, are heading for the Red Sea and the Caribbean.
But Danish tourists are sticking with Phuket. The agency MyTravel said nearly all its seats on flights to the resort island have been booked ahead of a restoration of air links scheduled for Feb. 8.
The Thai tourism office has said more than two thirds of hotel facilities in the affected areas are intact.