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Vol. XVI No. 3
Friday Junuary 18 - Junuary 24, 2008


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by Saichon Paewsoongnern


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]: 

Asian trade dominates ATF buyer profile

Andrew Wood elected President Skal Bangkok

Only ‘genuine’ Malaysians to greet tourists, government says

Three years after the tsunami

Asian trade dominates ATF buyer profile

Asian travel agents and tour operators represent the largest group of buyers scheduled to attend the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2008 in Bangkok from January 18 to 26.
Of the 650 registered buyers, 294 are from Asia, including 47 from Singapore, 38 from Malaysia, 34 from India, 31 from Indonesia, 21 from Vietnam and 43 from Thailand. Another 239 buyers are from Europe and are from the UK (48), Germany (46), the Netherlands (20) and France (15). There are 39 registered buyers from the US and 31 from Australia.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor, Ms Phornsiri Manoharn, said: “This selection of buyers reflects the rapid growth taking place in intra-regional travel, one of the most important trends taking place today.
“More growth is certain as Asia-Pacific governments push regional social and economic integration and liberalise movements of people and goods by boosting transportation infrastructure, especially low-cost airlines.”
As for sellers, the biggest number are from Thailand the host country, (184), followed by Indonesia (61), Malaysia (56), Singapore (25), the Philippines (17), Vietnam (17), Myanmar (nine), Brunei and Cambodia (seven each) and Laos (five).
Travex at ATF 2008 will be held at Challenger 2, Impact Muang Thong Thani, from January 21 to 25 January. The ASEAN Tourism Conference will be held at the same venue on January 23. (TTG)

Andrew Wood elected President Skal Bangkok

At the 8th January 2008 meeting of Skal Intl Bangkok, which took place at the Conrad hotel, Mr. Andrew J Wood, General Manager of the Chaophya Park Hotel & Resort, was elected President for 2008-2010.

Andrew J Wood, President-Skal Intl Bangkok 2008-2010.

Wood replaces Brian Sinclair Thompson of Swiss International Airlines, who hands over responsibility after a very successful 4-year tenure.
Mr. Somsak Kiratipanich was returned as Vice President and Mr. Robert (Bob) Lee was returned as Executive Secretary.
Andrew Wood is also the Skal International Councillor for Thailand and Skal Asian Area Director of Development. His election day victory coincided with his 49th Birthday.
The Skal Club of Bangkok was formed in 1956 (Club No.153) and meets on the second Tuesday of each month and currently has 94 members.

Only ‘genuine’ Malaysians to greet tourists, government says

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (eTN) - A new directive by the Malaysian government has decreed only “genuine” Malaysians can now man the frontline in the country’s hospitality industry.
“We want tourists to meet ‘local’ workers, including those pushing trolleys and taking bags,” said Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who made the announcement after chairing a cabinet committee on tourism. “We want our airports to give tourists a truly Malaysian welcome.”
“This is a new ruling for Malaysian airports, especially at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to ensure services provided will be carried out by locals,” he added. “Only local manpower can be used in jobs involving contact with tourists.”
The ruling has been made to stem the tide of employer’s dependency on “imported” labor, which the government has estimated now numbers some 3 million legal foreign workers.
Najib’s announcement coincided with Malaysia Airport’s unveiling of its new “orange flavored” attire for its airport frontline staff, as part of KLIA’s 10th anniversary campaign.

Three years after the tsunami

Burkhard Bartel, Pastor
People that travel to Khao Lak, now that three years have passed after the tsunami, are curious about the developments there. How are the survivors? What does the beach look like? Are resorts and hotels reconstructed yet?

Linus Nicolai Leger with godparents and his mother.
Most visitors are amazed by the normality they encounter everywhere. As if nothing had happened. But on 26 December 2004, more than 5,000 people lost their lives and about 85 percent of all hotels were completely destroyed. Little by little, employees and guests break their silence and begin to tell their own private stories of how they survived the huge wave.
The German-speaking Protestant community in Bangkok has helped in the tsunami-hit region over the last three years. We focused our work on Khao Lak and Ban Nam Khem, perhaps the place where the wave hit hardest. About half of the 7,000 inhabitants died, and 85 percent of the village was shattered. We have supported families, helped on reconstructions, paid for surgeries and the necessary aftercare.
Some people contracted illnesses from contaminated sand and water, and even today there are people dying from these infections.

The Takua Pa kindergarten is operating again.

During the third week of Advent 2007, I visited that region again. My departure was marked with wistfulness, as the misery has built close relationships and true friendships.
The reason for my journey to Khao Lak, though, was the baptism of Linus Nicolai Leger from Stuttgart, on December 17. It took place right at the place where the Leger family had lost Tom, their first child, to the wave three years ago. Only other people who experienced similar tragedies can emotionally understand the hard times these people have had to go through.
The Leger family found some comfort in the birth of Linus about eight months ago. His mother chose a reading from St Paul’s Epistle to Timothy: “God has not granted us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of prudence.”
The happiness of baptizing a newborn child, the commemoration of the tsunami victims and the peaceful Christmas festivities all came together. Most visitors to the worship mourned to the loss of a loved one. Glancing to the horizon, we gave rein to tears, but still there was happiness about the new life of a human being.
Many told me about their bad dreams at night, their fearfulness and depressions. Some lost their hope and feel ready to leave this world. We all know situations of great fear. Fear, however, is not just a negative, paralyzing feeling: it is also important. It warns us before danger.

Dark clouds drift past Ban Nam Khem.

Very few people realized the hazard of the approaching tsunami. One woman told me that she had just finished a book about tsunamis two days prior to the tragedy. She was at the very same beach, just a few hotels further down. As the water receded, she started to scream out frantically. Luckily, she managed to convince several people to quickly move to higher-level ground. While running, the woman saw a young man with a heavy backpack and she told him to just drop it. But the young man wouldn’t listen, and the wave got him.

Erosion has not stopped at Khao Lak.
Thousands of inhabitants have survived, but what have they done since? Most of them received support from the Thai government, private organizations and churches from all over the world and were able to build up accommodations again. The village came back to life. But even after three years, there are many who suffer from nightmares or feel suddenly terrified by a single unfamiliar noise.
A pastor and the owner of a batik atelier booth said that corruption was raging and it still is. Jealousy has risen between friends and even within some families. People were treated very differently. Some of them actually became rich because of the tsunami.
Fishermen say they are afraid of the future. The houses are no more solid than before. In the last three years, high waves have flushed sand into living rooms over and again. Prior to the tsunami, things like that had never happened.
A woman says: “We are terrified by the thought that another tsunami might strike. And we fear the ghosts of the deceased. Practically one human died on every square meter and many of them haven’t received a proper funeral. Some still lie on the bottom of surrounding ponds. When the wave hit our house, I held both my twins in my arms. I was whirled underneath the surface and just couldn’t hold onto my babies. We never saw them again. In my dreams, I oftentimes run from the water and suddenly everything turns black.”
Most of the relief organizations that pitched their tents right after the tsunami and soon moved into solid accommodations have left by now. A lot of praise can be heard about how unbureaucratic and selfless Thais and foreigners had worked hand in hand the first days and weeks. On the second day, enough drinking water and cooked rice had been supplied for all the people. Construction companies from all over Thailand sent heavy machinery to clear the streets and remove collapsed buildings and trees.
By today, most hotels in Khao Lak have already been renovated and some of them even look better than before. Many entrepreneurs, especially from small businesses, were forced to take out high loans. But tourism hasn’t yet fully recovered. Even in the high season now, empty beds can be found. The name “Khao Lak” became the epitome of horror. Especially tourists from Asian countries stay away, as they also fear the wandering souls of the dead.
Due to the low visitor numbers, many entrepreneurs have had to sell their businesses to pay off their debts. A diving instructor said: “The rich from Bangkok buy all the land. In a few years, we will see tourism similar to that in Pattaya and Phuket.”
One thing many villages still lack is centers for psychological counseling. There is no such thing in that region.
On the third anniversary, many tourists came back to the site where the tsunami struck. A woman from Germany said: “This is my first visit after the tragedy. I have gone through two years of psychological treatment. I’m here today because I finally want to recover wholly.”
As I go for a last walk before my departure, I take pictures of the white waves at the beach of Khao Lak, while a thunderstorm develops on the horizon.

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