The top U.N. tourism official called Asia’s tsunami the worst-ever catastrophe for the world’s tourism industry, and Indonesia announced Tuesday that it found the bodies of 1,000 additional victims — more than five weeks after the disaster.
U.N. World Tourism Organization chief Francesco Frangialli told delegates attending a special tourism conference in Thailand that the disaster “was the greatest catastrophe ever recorded in the history of world tourism” because of the high number of tourists and industry workers who died — outranking even the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
However, he said he was optimistic that it would do no permanent damage to “Asian tourism, which is in full expansion,” as industry delegates met to draft emergency plans to lure tourists back to the region’s beaches.
In terms of tourist arrivals, the disaster “will deal nothing but a glancing blow to world tourism,” he said.
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Tuesday became the first foreign head of state to visit Aceh province, the region most severely slammed by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami. However, he wasn’t the most high-profile visitor: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan toured the area last month.
Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard planned to arrive there Wednesday to get a first-hand look at the plight of survivors and to commend Australian aid workers who are helping the region to cope.
“I hope to be able to personally recognize and congratulate these fine Australians on their work, and to appreciate directly the challenges faced by the Acehnese people and the Indonesian government,” Howard told reporters in Singapore.
The death toll Tuesday ranged from about 157,000 to 178,000 across 11 nations hit by the disaster, with the range reflecting differing figures by separate agencies in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Together with estimates of up to 142,000 missing in the region — more than a quarter-million people may have been lost.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Relief Coordinating Board announced Tuesday that workers found 1,059 more bodies on Monday in Aceh, bringing the country’s toll to 109,297. Another Indonesian agency has a higher toll, of 123,198.
Interim early-warning system
The United Nations said Tuesday it is developing an interim early-warning system for tsunami in the Indian Ocean that could go into operation almost immediately, until a full-fledged network is put in place. It would be “a first step to prevent a repeat of the horrendous toll” reaped by the Dec. 26 tsunami, the U.N. said.
The region is working on installing a permanent warning system similar to one that exists for the Pacific Ocean, but differences among countries have blocked a decision on where to host a disaster warning center.
On the Thai resort island of Phuket — also swept by the killer waves — tourism delegates from dozens of countries met to finalize a marketing plan for four countries still reeling from the disaster: Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives.
The plan outlines ad campaigns and airline ticket giveaways, and calls for financial assistance for small tourism-linked businesses.