As West Sumatra starts to recover from the devastating earthquake that affected especially its provincial capital Padang and Pariaman, the head of tourism, James Hellyward, is already looking forward to tourism recovery.
“Life started to come back to normal after three days. For anyone coming, there is no problem of food, electricity or water supply. The airport has reopened after 24 hours and over 20 flights a day link us again to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore,” Hellyward told eTN in an exclusive interview.
For Hellyward, the recovery process already started. “We already invited media from Malaysia, Italy, Russia or Norway to come here and see themselves how the situation is involving. And we decided not to cancel our presence at any of the shows and trade fairs we are due to attend over the next months. We really need to communicate about today’s life in West Sumatra.”
The biggest problem that West Sumatra tourism is likely to face is a lack of accurate perception by tourists on the area. The earthquake severely hit Padang and Pariaman with many infrastructures. In total, according to data at the West Sumatra Integrated Coordination Center for Disaster Response, over 1,100 people perished in the earthquake with 2,902 injured and some 1,241 seriously injure. Some 102,000 houses were seriously damaged.
According to Hellyward, 11 hotels were damaged including five star-rated properties. These properties offer up to 1,520 rooms and it will take time before a replacement. In fact, the Ambacang Hotel, a traditional establishment built during the Dutch colonial time collapsed entirely as obviously, the addition of more floors over the original structure made the building to heavy. They are still many hotels in operation “We already accommodate hundreds of foreign aid-workers without any problem”, he said.
The province must now convince travelers to return and the task will require a big financial effort in communication. “In fact, we want to tell visitors that they can still come to West Sumatra as many areas have not been affected. The city of Bukittinggi, the cultural capital of Minangkabau people and West Sumatra’s most popular destination, was not affected by the earthquake. Tourism facilities around Lake Maninjau are also fully operational,” the tourism head stated.
Despite the difficult situation that the province is likely to face over the next months, Hellyward remains surprisingly optimistic about the capacity of West Sumatra to recover. “We hope that solidarity will also entice travelers to visit us and see on their own that life in West Sumatra is back to normal. We received in 2008 over 131,000 foreign travelers mostly from Malaysia and Singapore. We think that we could now welcome over 150,000 travelers and even more by next year.”
The head of West Sumatra tourism said he expects that some US$ 300 million will be needed to fix up tourism infrastructure and promote the destination.