Tsunami effects: Asian economies anticipate rebound

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[Hong Kong] Business is rebuilding from the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, but the enormous psychological effect is still being felt.

"We've been kicked in the teeth over and over," said David O'Rear, a Hong Kong-based economist, referring to the financial crisis that rippled through Asia in 1997 and the terrorist bombing in Bali in 2002, followed by the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The toughest recovery is faced by the area's ravaged travel and tourism industry. Western tourists are canceling trips in droves, forcing airlines, hotels and government tourism organizations to revise marketing strategies.

While popular tourist destinations such as Thailand's Phuket are nearly back on their feet and others, such as India's Goa, were not affected at all, Tourism Malaysia has temporarily halted its global TV campaign and AirAsia, an Asian budget airline based in Kuala Lumpur, has already dropped its new route between Phuket and Singapore.

Thai Airways International expects a significant drop in first-quarter revenue at a time of year that is usually peak season. The airline has not disclosed any marketing changes, but will look for ways to bring people back, and that will be the challenge over the next three to six months.

short term

But those in the tourism industry anticipate a rebound. "It's hard to say at this point, but my sense is that unlike the Bali bombings, which continues to impact tourism there, this will be a short-term situation," said Mark Webster, Bangkok-based managing director of JWT Thailand, Thai Airways' agency.

Others also don't anticipate long-term business effects from the disaster. "India's economy is slated to grow about 6.5% this year, and I don't expect the tsunami to have a major impact on those growth prospects," said Ambi Parameswaran, Mumbai-based executive director for India at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.

"Our clients are still in shock," said Phil Mulholland, deputy managing director of Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Bangkok, but business is moving on. "None of our clients have revised or even talked about revising their plans for 2005 because of the disaster," said Steve Dodds, managing director of Omnicom Group's TCP- TBWA in Indonesia. "

Mr. Mulholland said that while his clients "haven't pulled or altered any advertising, some marketers, such as Procter & Gamble, are sending staff to affected areas to help distributors and retailers rebuild their businesses.

Ad agencies are also helping out. Publicis Groupe made a $1 million donation last week. Half the money is going to the Red Cross, and half will fund local organizations' re-building projects. Local agencies are also fund-raising in honor of staffers who were injured or killed.

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