Ministers urge tourists to return to tsunami-hit areas

Agence France Presse

Phuket, January 31:

Ministers from tsunami-hit nations in the Indian Ocean today urged tourists to return, amid complaints that travel advisories by foreign governments had misrepresented the extent of the damage. “The Maldives is still the paradise of the Indian Ocean. Please visit us — that is the best way to contribute to the revival of our economy and our efforts at reconstruction,” Maldives tourism minister Mustafa Lutfi told AFP.

“We are back in business — most of our tourist resorts are operational, only a few have been closed,” he said on the sidelines of talks among 30 countries on the tsunami-hit island of Phuket. The talks are aimed at reviving tourism after the disaster that left over 283,000 dead. Lutfi told delegates, including officials, private-sector representatives and international agencies, that 21 out of 63 resorts were closed in the 1,190-island archipelago where tourism makes up 30 per cent of gross domestic product.

Thamrin Bachri, Indonesia’s deputy minister for capacity-building and international relations, expressed frustration that tourists were cancelling trips and said he did not expect a bounce back to normal until March. He said foreign governments’ travel advisories had skewed perceptions of the damage, urging that they be kept “proportional”.

“The perception is that the tsunami has impacted all of Indonesia. This is not fair because the distance from Aceh to Bali is about 3,000 km.”

Delegate David Beirman, director of the Israel Tourism Office in Australasia and the southwest Pacific and the author of a book on tourism in disaster-hit zones, told the conference that quiet diplomacy was needed on advisories. "Government travel advisories are about protecting their own citizens, you need to understand that very clearly," he said.