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Tsunami region seeks tourism boost

By CNN's Jim Boulden

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CNN's Jim Boulden reports on the tsunamis' impact on the tourism industry.
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Impact of tourism on region

(as % of GDP, employment):

Maldives: 72.1, 64.4

Malaysia: 14.7, 12.7

Thailand: 12.2, 8.9

Indonesia: 10.3, 8.5

India: 4.9, 5.6

Sri Lanka: 4.6, 3.7

Source: World Travel and Tourism Council

Tour operators

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Wendy Hone booked her holiday to Sri Lanka a few weeks before the tsunami. Now she's determined to do her bit to help the stricken island -- by going there in two weeks time.

"I wasn't thinking of it before as helping tourism for Sri Lanka as such. I was looking at it as a holiday," she says. "Now I feel I'm going out there to help get tourism back on its feet."

A number of countries hit by the tsunami are saying one way to help is by booking a holiday to the region -- despite the devastation.

Sri Lankan officials say 70 percent of their tourist areas are intact. And about the same amount of resorts are now operating in the Maldives.

But still the tourism industry is suffering. Hotel bookings have dropped below 50 percent in the Maldives, even though only three tourists died there.

"If you were to do a crude estimate of the accounting of tourism contribution to the Maldives economy, its as high as 80 percent of the economy depends on tourism, so that's our lifeline," says Hassan Sobir, Maldives High Commissioner in London.

Thailand suffered the largest number of tourist deaths, as the tsunami hit the country's most popular resorts.

And while 70 percent of hotels in Phuket were not damaged, only 20 percent of rooms there are now full, and travel to that part of Thailand is down by almost a third.

Still, the region can take heart by the recovery of other destinations.

Bali in Indonesia took only one year to recover from the nightclub bombing there in 2002. And Asia saw tourists come back in force after the SARS outbreak of 2003.

"The repair to the infrastructure that's necessary, the restoration work, the delivery of sanitation, clean water and all the infrastructure is, in my view, unprecedented in terms of damage, and is going to take several years to restore," says Alex Kyriakidis, a travel and tourism consultant for Deloitte.

Other parts of Asia are expected to see an increase in travelers. If tourists can't make it to the Maldives or Sri Lanka or Thailand, tour operators are switching them to other spots in the sun -- hoping to retain most of the $25 billion usually spent in South Asia each year.

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