What ever happened to Khao Lak, Thailand?
The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 wiped out the sleepy coastal town killing thousands and all but scouring it from the Earth. But where is it now in terms of redevelopment and tourism?
In October, 2011, QUO Keen conducted research in Khao Lak speaking with foreign and Thai tourists, small business owners and hoteliers to find out their perceptions of the area seven years after the tsunami. With the help of students from Webster University Thailand, we surveyed over 200 people from 22 different countries, including Thailand, and found that while people still remember the tsunami and the destruction it caused, it no longer is a source of concern or fear.
What we found was that most people knew – and knew a good deal – about the tsunami but were not worried about any similar event occurring in the future. Further, tourists were also not concerned about the prospect of future natural disasters along the Andaman Coast or the rest of Thailand. And even though people knew a lot about the event, they did not associate it with Khao Lak. It was identified as a regional event and not connected with one particular location.
Something else we discovered was that Thais were no longer bothered by supernatural issues connected with the disaster and were not concerned about taking a holiday in the area. This was cited by many – including the Tourism Authority of Thailand – as the principal reason why Thais stayed away. This may have been a concern immediately after the tsunami, but seven years on this issue no longer holds sway.
There are likely several reasons for the overall change in perception among foreign and local tourists, time and the relatively quick redevelopment compared to other areas being the most notable. Local and external events – from the 2006 coup to the recent flooding – have also overshadowed the tsunami while a loyal following of tourists did their part to help bring Khao Lak back on the tourist map.
What has also likely played a big part in this change is the fact that so much coverage of the tsunami created a significant learning curve for people around the world. Tsunamis, such as the one in 2004, are no longer oceanic mysteries but now seen as natural events with identifiable causes. In many ways it was as though a light was turned on in a darkened room: once people learned what caused tsunamis and knew the signs to watch out for, they were no longer afraid of them.
Tourism has returned to Khao Lak and new hotels and resorts are springing up everywhere. The beautiful waters and tranquil scenery are bringing in tourists to an area local billboards proclaim is “Just Like Phuket 20 Years Ago.” Its location and low-key atmosphere are once again proving to be an idyllic alternative to the more urbanised and touristy areas elsewhere in the kingdom.
For more details on this research, please click here.
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