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Last Updated: Friday, 31 December 2004, 15:13 GMT
Tourists face a moral dilemma
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News

Tourists lying on Thai beach
Is it right to holiday in a tsunami-ravaged country?

Holidaymakers planning trips to tsunami-affected countries have had to grapple with the guilt of going through with their journeys amidst so much destruction and misery.

There has been outrage at pictures showing tourists sunning themselves on Thai resort beaches less than a week after the devastating damage caused by the Boxing Day tsunamis.

Thousands of holidaymakers have been among more than 124,000 currently known to have been killed from the tsunami. The World Health Organisation has estimated more than five million people have been displaced by the calamity.

The question of whether to go ahead with trips to those countries has been simple for some - the Foreign Office advised that travel to areas hit by the tsunamis should be cancelled, but has now lifted its advisory ban on Indonesia, apart from the province of Aceh.

Tour operators have cancelled trips to the worst affected areas - the east and south coasts of Sri Lanka and the resort beaches and islands of western Thailand - on that advice.

Travellers' response

But there are thousands of independent travellers, who book their own flights and accommodation, who have had to change their plans themselves.

Many however are responding to calls from the governments of these tourism-reliant countries.

They want holidaymakers to continue with their visits, even as airports are thronged with travellers from the worst hit areas trying to return home.

A spokeswoman from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) told the BBC News website: "All the communication we have got from our destinations is that they are extremely keen to have visitors.

"The effect of the earthquake is going to be massive in an economic way," she said.

"The governments want the impact to be minimised. We will be doing everything we can to support that," she added.

Travellers are responding in kind.

Stephanie Sledge-Hardt, a 29-year-old cinematographer from London, booked a month-long trip to South-East Asia two weeks ago, flying into Bangkok.

Because she was not planning specifically to visit the resort areas damaged by the waves, she said her first thought "was to donate money".

"I want to help, but I can't get into a car and drive down to the coast where there is all the damage. I thought I would donate money to people who know how to distribute it properly," she said.

I see no reason to change my plans
Holidaymaker Steve Mann

"I think that in a country that relies on tourism so much you should still visit. Obviously, if I had plans to go down to the coast I would have changed them."

Another tourist planning a Thailand journey is Dylan Evans, a tower crane operator in Ireland.

He said he had checked out the bulletin board on the Lonely Planet travel website every day since the tsunami struck, and had not found a reason to cancel his trip.

"I didn't have much second thought, but a lot of friends, family, workmates have been phoning, asking if I'm going or not, but hardly any of them had anything negative to say about the trip."

Rescue workers load dead bodies onto a truck in Khao Lak
Some of the affected areas will take years to recover

Others echoed this attitude. Steve Mann, from the United Kingdom, posted on the Lonely Planet website: "I never planned to go to the affected areas, but will fly into Bangkok and probably on to Chiang Mai, then either Laos or Koh Samui.

"As none of my intended destinations are affected I see no reason to change my plans, and, as you suggest, the Thai economy relies on continued tourism.

"If I'd been planning a two-week beach holiday in Phuket, my answer would likely be rather different, though."

Karen Sargent, 27, a psychologist from London , did say she had been planning a holiday to Thailand, but was now unsure whether she would go.

Minute's silence

"My plan was to travel to the west coast (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao) and then travel up north to Chiang Mai, areas which were not affected.

"I've decided to wait for a couple of weeks before I decide whether to go to Thailand in February or not. My instinct tells me to go however friends and family are all advising me not to. So as yet I am undecided."

In the worst-affected regions, local economies that thrive on the beach-bar-loving backpacker hordes, a sense of reality is already returning.

A British pub on the Thai island of Phuket is holding a New Year's Eve Party which will be preceded by a minute's silence for the victims - less than a week after the tsunamis claimed thousands of lives along the Thai coastline.

"People need a party," said Howard Digby-Jones, who opened The Green Man pub three years ago.

"People need to go forward. There will be a minute's silence at midnight before we sing Auld Lang Syne and the lights will be turned off so people can have a private sniffle," he said.





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