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Travel agent confident visitors will return to Thailand

The people of Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia will never be the same after a Dec. 26 tsunami swept through coastal areas, levelling villages and killing as many as 155,000 locals and tourists.

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The tourism industry in those countries, an important part of the economy, will likely be affected for several years, but one Whistler travel agent is confident that locals who have visited those areas in the past will always return there.

"It is one of (Whistler’s) major destinations, definitely," said Shelley Patrick of Personal Travel Management. "Because of the people, because of the price, because you can get a little bungalow on the beach and stay for a month, and people like that. Not many locals went to Phuket itself, more to the other islands there like Kopipi or to places with rock climbing, and they was completely wiped out.

"I think people from Whistler would probably go back and help rebuild. I’d even be willing to see if I could get the airlines to do some deals for people to go back there and help out. Right now they don’t want anyone going there because it’s still so chaotic, people are looking for families and burying their dead, but I’m sure anyone who has been there would go back in a second to help because the Thai people are the nicest, most caring people."

Patrick says two of her clients were in Thailand when the tsunami struck. She e-mailed one of them and received a reply a few days later to learn that they were safe. Another client was in an area for a full moon party that wasn’t affected by the tsunami wave.

She says she knows of about 10 people who recently returned from Thailand, some missing the tsunami by days.

"Our clients are mostly Whistler residents, and I’ve probably sent a hundred people a year to Thailand for the past 10 years, but most of them come back in time for the ski season," said Patrick.

"For that reason we haven’t seen a lot of cancellations, nobody is travelling there at this time, which is fortunate because people do go to those areas that were most affected."

Patrick says she has been going to Thailand since she was 12, and once new tsunami warning systems are in place she says she will have no problem returning there in the future. She says she would be more concerned with disease at this point than another tsunami.

The tsunami was the most devastating on record since an event in 1883 claimed more than 36,000 lives around Indonesia.

"I believe people from Whistler will still go there (Thailand). I don’t know whether it’s because we’re more adventurous or what, but people do tend to go to more exotic locations even if there is a danger. Certainly it’s cheaper, but I really think it’s the people and the experiences you get in those kinds of places that keeps people going back," said Patrick.

"An early warning system will make a huge difference, especially for families that go there because it is a family destination. I think people who were afraid to travel to Thailand in the past have learned that it’s actually very safe and that the people are wonderful."

As for the impact on the local travel industry, Patrick said she has learned not to panic when disasters happen.

"We’ve had 9/11, SARS, nightclub bombings in Bali, and every time we thought it would kill the industry. But people in Whistler still travelled."

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