The tidal wave—caused by an earthquake registering 8.9 on the Richter scale that erupted in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia —has killed more than 125,000 people in 12 different countries.
At press time, 4,812 people had died in Thailand; almost half (2,240) were foreign tourists. Many are still missing. About 3,800 of the deaths occurred at Khao Lak, a beach resort a few miles north of Phuket on the Andaman Coast, where luxury hotels were filled with holiday visitors. Just about all of the hotels in Khao Lak were wiped out or seriously damaged and many will have to be rebuilt, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. While a few resorts in Khao Lak and Koh Phi Phi escaped damage, both areas are closed to visitors until further notice.
Considering its proximity to the epicenter (160 miles), Phuket’s damage could have been much worse. Close to 85 percent of the properties remain open and some of those that have closed expect to re-open within the next few months. "Properties on a bay like the entirety of Patong Bay fared badly," as the water had no place to go but ashore, says Bob Guy, Singapore-based managing director at Pacific World Travel, a destination management company with offices throughout Asia. "Those along the coast, where the energy could be dissipated, were affected only for the first 15 to 20 meters ," he adds.
In Phuket, almost 20 resorts are closed or partially closed for repairs. Some of the resorts that serve the meeting and incentive markets are damaged but remain open for business, including the Sheraton Grand Laguna, Dusit Laguna, Hilton Arcadia Phuket, and the JW Marriott. The JW Marriott will be waiving cancellation fees until January 9, according to published reports, and will handle cancellation requests on a case-by-case basis after that. The Le Meridien Phuket will be closed until January 20 for repairs.
In Khao Lak, the Le Meridien Khao Lak, which is popular with meeting and incentive groups, is among those closed. For a status of area hotels, visit www.sawade.com/tsunami/hotels.htm.
TAT officials expect the cleanup to be complete and Phuket to be ready for visitors again in a month., Other resort areas of Thailand, including Koh Lanta, Bangkok, and Pattaya, saw little or no damage.
"Phuket is a very popular destination for seasoned incentive groups," says Bill Boyd, president and CEO of Sunbelt Motivation & Travel, Irving, Texas. "There will obviously be a ‘pull-back’ from that destination, at least until the damage can be repaired and perhaps an early-warning system installed."
Click herefor links to tsunami relief organizations.