Post-tsunami travellers plan Phuket trip
Thirty Chinese tourists are scheduled to leave for Phuket, Thailand, on February 9, spending the first day of the lunar year at the renowned tourist destination badly destroyed by the deadly December 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The group members will start their five-day trips from Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province.
Each participated in online bidding dubbed "touring Phuket," which is promoting tourism to help restore the economy in the tsunami-hit regions. All the money they spend will be donated in their names to the ravaged region, according to Ctrip.com, an on-line travel company.
But still, the overall number of tourists going to Southeast Asian countries, which were the hardest hit, is experiencing a decline during the Spring Festival holiday.
Ouyang Chaosong, the person in charge of the Beijing-based Southeast Asia division of the China Travel Service Head Office, predicted the number of tourists going to Southeast Asian countries around the holidays will decrease by half.
Normally, Ouyang's company sends 3,000 to 4,000 tourists to Southeast Asian destinations each year during the festival period. But he said by January 26 only about 1,000 have registered for visits there.
Signs of a hot season, such as overtime work at travel agencies and additional flight arrangements for tours to Southeast Asia, have not materialized this year, he said.
However, "the worry is fading away gradually," he added.
Trips to countries like the Philippines, Cambodia and Viet Nam have already been fully booked, while those to Singapore and Malaysia have begun to revive, according to Ouyang.
"Everyone is speaking of showing sympathy (to the victims of the disaster). What we travel agencies can do to show our sympathy is to organize safe tours to such countries," he said.
Travel agencies are also trying to attract consumers by low prices.
Wang Jian, a senior official of the Guangdong China Travel Service, based in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, said the price of a package tour to Thailand for six days has dropped to less than 2,000 yuan (US$241) from the usual 3,700 yuan (US$447).
He said the impact of the tsunamis is limited for the company due to such efforts. There might be a 10 to 20 per cent shrinkage in the number of tourists going to Southeast Asian countries during the Spring Festival holidays.
Zhang Guangrui, director of the tourism research centre at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, predicted that the disaster will affect not only the coming Spring Festival holidays in mid-January, but also the Labour Day holidays in May.
Both are dubbed "golden weeks" by the tourism sector in China.
The disaster will bring about psychological fears among most people, who will stop going to disaster-hit places, he said, adding that travel agencies will hesitate in making travel plans to such sites.
Meanwhile, it will take a period of time for the ravaged regions and countries to recover and rebuild tourist infrastructure, Zhang said.
More people will go to countries like the Republic of Korea, Japan and Germany instead, he said.
At an international forum held last week in Beijing on rebuilding confidence and charting the road to reconstruction for the post-tsunami period, Zhang Xuechun, senior financial economist of the Asian Development Bank China resident mission, said the impact on tourists is mostly emotional. "But the impact will not last for more than half a year," she predicted.
Ouyang is confident about the future. It is not the first time that the tourism in Southeast Asia is affected by disasters, he said, referring to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis in 2003 spring.
"The industry's ability to recover is strong," he added.
Disaster-hit countries are also showing confidence that tourists will be back.