Battling back to business

5th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

With well over 1,000 of its nationals officially classified as missing, Germany has been hard hit by the Asian tsunami. Long a popular destination for German tourists, the area devastated by the tragedy is also home to a large community of expats from Germany. Thomas Long reports.

Digging out from the destruction of the 26 December tsunami at his beachfront hotel, Swiss-German businessman Forti Schmid estimated it would cost him at least EUR 45,000 to rebuild

Some areas will take many years to recover from the disaster

Like many small and medium businesses in the popular Patong Beach resort, Schmid had no insurance to cover his losses. Many of these businesses are seeing no income for now, and yet are faced with uncertainty over how soon the tourism traffic will rebound.

"The order of the day now is, everyone help out your own self," Schmid said, as workers swept out the debris and reinstalled electricity in the Thai Friend House - a hotel, restaurant and dive shop.

Large and small businesses serving Thailand's huge tourism industry are suffering. The government estimates the reduced number of visitors will shave 1.3 percent off the country's gross domestic product this year, said Amara Sriphayak, director of the central bank's monetary policy department.

The industry accounts for about 6 percent of the total economy, or nearly USD 10 billion. The government and many tourists themselves reacted quickly to change destinations from the ravaged southwest coast to other parts of the country.

Resorts on the unaffected eastern Gulf of Thailand coast were reporting an excess of tourists to some beaches and islands, where some ended up sleeping outside for lack of rooms. Inland tourist destinations were reporting huge surges in business, and bus and railway lines were running at full capacity.

Sontaya Kunplome, the Sport and Tourism minister, said the number of tourists has declined about 25 percent since the tragedy. He said the ministry will ask the cabinet to approve a USD 325 million budget for restoration of hotels and others businesses.

*quote1*Along Phuket's Patong Beach frantic clean-up and reconstruction activity are already seen throughout the densely built-up resort, which features one of the areas most placid bays.

"It will take at least six months for things to get back to normal around here, but nobody has any idea how much tourism will come back here," said Ram Buhadu, a Nepalese tailor who has seen his business fall off 70 percent.

The harshest effect will likely be felt by the innumerable low-paid employees of tens of thousands of small businesses that service the tourism trade. Many cafes, bars, and retail shops that were not ruined sat empty, as listless employees idly whiled the day away.

"What's the problem? The problem here is that I have no customers," said Nancy Tacharracharkit, in her empty restaurant, bar and 12-room guesthouse that would normally be overflowing during the high season.

But she said a bigger problem was the human and economic cost for poor workers. Her brother owned two hotels on the devastated island of Phi Phi, where 60 employees perished.

"That is a real tragedy, and we have to take care of their families, because we can not just give them some money and walk away," she said. "There are children who have lost their mothers and fathers, and we believe in karma and good works."

Some hard-hit areas, especially the totally devastated Khao Lak resort in neighbouring Phang Nga province, will require many years to recover from the disaster.

But in spite of the problems and bad publicity circling the world, some hardy tourists refused to be deterred from their holidays in the tropical Andaman Sea paradise.

*quote2*Werner Stapf, a regular visitor to Thailand from Stuttgart, Germany, arrived in Patong just two days ago, and planned to spend three weeks more.

"I always come to Thailand, sometimes three or four times a year, and I will keep on coming because this is a beautiful place," he said.

Stapf had confirmed his travel plans by calling a friend who was already in Patong, Hermann Mueller of Frankfurt.

"He told me it was okay to come, so I came," Stapf said, noting that the flight from Germany to Bangkok was fully booked.

Mueller was in a bank changing money when the water rushed inside, destroying everything while customers and employees sought refuge on the roof.

"I lost my passport and credit card in the water, but when I came back the next day I found them," he said. "I don't know if the bank found all of its money, though."

January 2005

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: German news, tsunami

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