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Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page P01


South Asia and Tourism

Tourism is on hold in parts of South Asia as nations continue to assess the destruction caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. The disaster comes at the start of the peak tourism season for countries like Thailand.

"This is a human tragedy of the highest possible order, but the reality is that a very small proportion of the actual tourism infrastructure has been damaged," says John Koldowski, managing director of the Strategic Intelligence Center of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (www.pata.org) in Bangkok.

Still, the U.S. State Department (travel.state.gov/travel/warnings.html) is urging that all nonemergency trips to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the southwestern region of Thailand and the Maldives be canceled through at least the end of January. Besides the destruction, the regions risk outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera and malaria.

Tour operators are still evaluating the conditions on the ground; in most cases it's too soon to give specific advice.

For those who have to alter itineraries or dates, hotels and airlines may waive their usual change fees. "They tend to be sensitive to situations like this," says Melissa Abernathy, director of communications for American Express Consumer Travel in New York. Otherwise, trip insurance should cover the cost of changes or cancellations, though the area you are traveling to must be directly impacted by the disaster.

Here's an assessment, at press time, of affected tourist regions and where you can find updates.

Thailand. Six provinces on the western coast of southern Thailand sustained severe damage. Water damaged 200 hotels in Phuket, though only 10 percent of the beach resort's 31,000 hotel rooms are unusable. Phi Phi Island lost all of its buildings. Details: 323-461-9814, www.tourismthailand.org.

Indonesia. The western end of Sumatra is the most devastated region of South Asia, with extensive destruction in Aceh province. No reports of damage to Java, Bali or other major tourist islands. Details: www.deplu.go.id.gov.mv.

Sri Lanka: A wide swath of the eastern coastline from Jaffna to tourist beaches in the south was slammed, with entire villages washed away. Details: 732- 516-9800, www.srilankatourism.org.

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