Swedish visitors are now coming to Thailand in twice the numbers they did before the 2004 tsunami, says Swedish Ambassador Lennart Linner.
”We had about 200,000 visitors per year before the tsunami. Today it’s 410,000,” he says.
”The figure has doubled in less than five years, and that is quite extraordinary. We thought maybe some people would be taken aback and say ‘No, not back to Thailand.’ On the contrary, numbers have actually increased.”
The Swedish Ambassador says Sweden, being a relatively small nation of nine million, was deeply affected by the tsunami. The only previous tragedy on a similar scale was the sinking of the Estonia ferry more than 20 years ago.
Germans, British and Australians have also returned in large numbers.
”I think an extraordinary amount of goodwill was created, ironically enough, in the tragedy,” the ambassador said. ”The silver lining was perhaps all the help that many of the relatives of the victims received.
”The Thais were helping them before even helping their own, and for that, Sweden will always be grateful.”
Many have returned to Khao Lak, north of Phuket in Phang Nga province, where a high proportion of Swedes and Germans died in 2004.
”I shouldn’t be the spokesperson for how each family feels, but it would almost seem that it’s like a cleansing process,” the ambassador said. ”You want to visit in order to go on with your life, to see the changes that have occurred, and then go on with your life. But some even come back each year.
”The human being is fascinating. We work in different ways.”
The ambasador said that 543 Swedes, a similar tally to the number of Germans who died, were among the 5395 victims of the tsunami.
Fifteen Swedes have yet to be identified, with 10 of those born in 1990 or later, making them aged 14 or younger when the tsunami struck.
One of the Khao Lak resorts had a large children’s club operating close to the shore when the wave swept in.
”No we don’t really have any major hopes that there will be any further identification now.,” he said.
”Wherever you go in Sweden and you meet people, somebody will know someone who lost a relative in Thailand. I don’t know if we were touched more than others.
”The Australians had the Bali bombing, [in 2002] that was their big trauma, and their preparedness increased in so many ways. For us, this was our big tragedy, and we’ve never had anything like it.”
Tourism Authority of Thailand figures for 2004 show that 30,000 Swedes arrived that December on Phuket, the same figure as the number of Australians.
Yet only 23 Australians perished in the big wave. Phuketwan has established that the difference between one nation having 543 victims and the other only 23 probably came about because of holiday and travel patterns.
Swedes, with a short holiday break at that time of the year, jump on a plane quickly so they can escape the cold and celebrate Christmas Eve in a warm climate. They love a natural environment and generally flocked to Khao Lak.
Australians, on the other hand, have a longer and warmer holiday period at that time of the year, and many try to stay home for Christmas. When they do come to Phuket, they tend to congregate in Patong and other Phuket destinations.
So it was that the difference in travel habits created a huge difference in the level of suffering.