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Swedish tourists return to Thailand

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20:54 CET+01:00
The first Swedish tourists to return to Thailand after the Asian tsunami landed at Phuket airport on Wednesday morning. Around 350 Swedish holidaymakers were welcomed with a song and dance from locals who accompanied their arrival with a lively musical ensemble.

Swedish newspapers were also there to capture the moment. A banner with the words “Phuket, Asia's playground, is golden again.” caught the eye of Dagens Nyheter. And, as reported by Thursday's Sydsvenskan, “they were received like celebrities rather than ordinary tourists.”

World travellers Edith Westrin, 81, and her husband Svenerik, 86, told DN they had no doubts about returning to Thailand for the eleventh time. “If there is paradise on earth, then this is it,” said Svenerik. “It's a bit like coming home,” added Edith. “We have travelled to many countries, but Thailand is the best” she said.

However, the air remained tinged with sadness. Sydsvenskan described the photographs of missing tourists hanging on the walls of the terminal building as “a painful reminder of the catastrophe which hit Asia less than six weeks ago”.

According to Thursday's Svenska Dagbladet, relatives of four missing Swedes were on the flight, fewer than Swedish authorities had expected. Meanwhile a number of travellers chose not to tell anxious relatives where they were going.

Swedish tourist Christina Möller told Sydsvenskan, “It's not the same feeling of happiness we usually have when we come here. Thoughts usually revolve around good food and what we are going to do on the beach. It's not like that now.”

Christina and her partner Christian were due to get married on this trip. But the Stockholm couple chose to postpone the ceremony as a result of the tsunami. They were uneasy about celebrating their big day in a country which so many Swedes associate with grief and sorrow.

“It feels good to give our holiday funds to the Thai people.” said Rigmor Månsson who travels to Thailand a couple of times a year.

“We come here because it's so beautiful and because the people are so friendly,” added Sven Svensson.

“If tourists don't come back here it will be like another Tsunami for the Thai people” said Ingela Filiz.

“It feels great to come back to Thailand. It's is like meeting and old friend who has been ill,” added Gina Svensson.

According to DN, daily life and a certain level of normality has returned to Phuket. “The clean up operations have been quick and clothes, shoes and rubbish have now been cleared away.”

“At the same time Thai people are clearing away paving stones dislodged by the disaster, tourists are sunbathing on the beach.”

Holiday sales in January have been affected but according to a recent survey only 3 per cent of Swedes changed their plans as a result of the catastrophe.

Speaking to Thursday's Dagens Industri, Lennart Käll, managing director of Swedish travel agency Ticket said, “2005 has the power to be at least as good as 2004 for the travel industry, despite the tragedy in Asia.” On Wednesday, Ticket posted profits of 10.1 million for 2004, its best results in five years.

According to Lennart Käll, however, it could take some time before Phuket regains its position as the Swedes' favourite holiday destination. “Despite the fact that travel agencies have more than halved their range of holidays to Phuket there are still plenty of spare places left.” he said.

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