After the Tsunami: The Phuket Action Plan

Download this case study to find out how Thailand recovered from the devastating effects of the tsunami which hit Phuket & Southern Thailand in 2004.

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Background

The tsunami which impacted communities around the Indian Ocean rim on the morning of 26th December 2004 wreaked particular havoc with the tourism industry in Phuket and southern Thailand. Although it did not suffer the greatest loss of life (which occurred in Indonesia’s Aceh province), Phuket was the most easily accessible for the international news media. Reports of thousands of missing tourists at the height of the Christmas holiday season dominated TV news bulletins and newspaper headlines around the world.

Phuket Action Plan Involved all Stakeholders

More than 5,400 people representing 33 nationalities died along the western coast of Phuket, in Phang Nga province and on neighbouring islands including Kho Phi Phi.

A further 2,800 people were reported missing. In the days after the tsunami hit, some European governments arranged flights to rescue their citizens from Thailand and multiple governments sent relief supplies and personnel to assist with identifying the deceased and repatriating foreign victims.

The tourism sector, hotels and resorts accounted for roughly 12% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, and up to 42% of the economy in Phuket province.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, visitor arrivals fell by more than 40% and up to 100,000 people whose livelihoods depended on tourism lost their jobs. Average hotel occupancy in Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi fell by more than half.

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Integrate the Communication Strategy with the Recovery Plans

In February 2005, the UN World Tourism Organisation (WTO) convened a meeting in Phuket of tourism experts representing 42 countries, international organisations (including PATA) and the private sector to develop a plan to restore market confidence and speed up the recovery of the affected destinations.

The Phuket Action Plan comprised five operational areas: marketing-communications, community relief, professional training, sustainable redevelopment and risk management.

The most important element was marketing and communications, which would be key to recovering the confidence of potential visitors and tourism partners. This would mean engaging with multiple audiences including governments, businesses, tour operators, travel agents, the media and the public. Despite the reports of the widespread destruction of resorts along the west coast of Phuket and surround areas, in fact many beaches were virtually unscathed and properties could reopen as soon as tourists returned.

Work Collaboratively and Use Consistent Messaging

In an effort to reassure tourists about their safety, the Thai Government approved the construction of 55 tsunami warning towers in the six affected provinces, together with signs pointing out escape routes. The WTO itself set up a dedicated tsunami recovery website providing articles, reports, research studies and videos showing progress towards rebuilding tourism in all the affected locations. Other activities organised by the WTO included familiarisation visits for key journalists and tour operators from major source markets including a visit by more than 800 international tour operators to Andaman coastal areas in March 2005.

Outcome

Airlines that cancelled flights to Phuket gradually returned, including carriers from Australia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Europe. Others started new services from markets such as Hong Kong, China, Russia and South Korea directly to Phuket and Krabi. Tourist numbers to the tsunami-affected areas of Thailand began to increase in 2006 and by the end of that year, the tourism industry had almost recovered to pre-tsunami levels.

Timeline of Phuket after the Tsunami

2004
Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami Strikes

Indian Ocean tsunami strikes Phuket on the morning of 26th December. More than 5,400 people from 33 countries are lost at the height of the Christmas holiday season.

2005
Phuket Tourism Suffers

Visitor arrivals fall by 40%. Average hotel occupancy in Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi falls by more than half.

Phuket Action Plan is Born

Global meeting of tourism experts held in Phuket to develop Phuket Action Plan. Focused on five key areas, including marketing and communications. 

Tourism Rebuild Begins

Hundreds of media and travel industry visits to Phuket and Andaman Sea resorts to view recovery efforts.  Post-tsunami marketing strategy includes focusing on new markets and niche sectors such as medical tourism, wellbeing and spa holidays. 

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