Resilience is a direct expression of the strength of the coupled human–environment system reflecting its self-organization, learning and adaptive capabilities (Carpenter et al., 2001). As Khao Lak recovers from the impacts of the tsunami, the importance of strong governance, self-organization and adaptation has become clear. The Thai government played a crucial role in distributing financial capital to aid recovery by formulating resilience-building strategies and campaigning hard to restore tourist confidence. However, these actions were undermined by the preexisting deficiencies in and preferences of Thai governance structures that perpetuated unequal resource distribution. Faced with these deficiencies, the Khao Lak community mobilized strong community action aimed at regional, national and international stakeholders in a bid to restore Khao Lak as an international tourism destination.
Strong national tourism recovery policies. Following the 2004 tsunami, the central Thai government introduced the Andaman Tourism Recovery Plan (phaen maebot feunfu kangthongthieo Andaman), a product of multiple stakeholder input aimed at stimulating rapid and sustainable tourism recovery in the six southern tsunami-affected provinces – Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun (Prof Suraches Chetamas, Khao Lak Andaman Tourism Recovery Plan project manager, pers. comm., Bangkok, 4 July 2005). Three key strategies were propounded: formulating an integrated tourism development strategy, facilitating a strong private sector recovery by offering financial support and launching multiple marketing drives (TAT, 2005). While the plan offers strong guidelines for the affected communities, successful implementation is proving difficult due to deficiencies in governance structures and conflicting interests operating at various scales of social organization.
The post-tsunami tourism planning strategy includes the introduction of strict zoning regulations and building codes and an integrated road evacuation system. The new zoning restrictions and building codes include a 30-m development setback, multiple graded density zones and structural codes. However, the subdistrict and district governments lack the financial and human resources required to oversee their enforcement (Thawee Haomhuam, civil engineer, Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning, Phuket, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 12 July 2005). Consequent violations continue to perpetuate the exposure of built structures and their inhabitants to future coastal hazards. No obvious steps have been taken to address these contraventions in governance (Prof. Suraches Chetamas, Khao Lak Andaman Tourism Recovery Plan project manager, pers. comm. Bangkok, 4 July 2005). The completion of the road evacuation system was stalled and finally halted by two factors: bureaucratic obstacles created by local opposition from multiple stakeholders and the Thai government's inability to finance the repossession of prime development land (Prof. Suraches Chetamas, Khao Lak Andaman Tourism Recovery Plan project manager, pers. comm., Bangkok, 4 July 2005). Local stakeholders adamantly resisted changes seen to negatively alter the appeal of Khao Lak's beachfront and lower market share. Without local support the central government is unable to implement action plans, placing recovery plans in doubt.
The second component of the recovery plan involved substantial government-led financial assistance to promote a strong recovery. In early 2005, the Thai government endorsed the establishment of three financial assistance measures for private sector stakeholders: (i) initial emergency payments supported by the Ministry of the Interior, (ii) a Tsunami Recovery Fund (kongthun feunfu sunami) supported by the Thai Government Venture Capital Fund, aimed at assisting larger businesses, and (iii) soft loan provisions under a Bank Of Thailand ‘Lending to entrepreneurs affected by the tsunami in six provinces’ programme (kanhai nguen kuyeum samrap phu prakobkan tii dai rap pholkratob chaak sunami nai 6 krongkarn radab changwat), which catered to small business interests (BOT, 2005; 2006; UN 2005; WTO 2005b). While these measures have assisted the recovery of some businesses, application delays, bureaucratic obstacles and corrupt practices hindered their effectiveness.
The distribution of emergency payments placed under the jurisdiction of local village leaders often disproportionately benefited friends and relatives (PJ, restaurant owner, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 8 July 2005). Claims from larger businesses exceeded the capital made available through the Tsunami Recovery Fund and were subject to long delays (PY, resort owner, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 11 July 2005). Soft loan provisions were made available through the Government Savings Bank (GSB, 2005; 2006) and the SME Bank's Tsunami SME Fund (kongthun chuayleua visahakij kanad klang lae kanadyom tii dai rap pholkratob chaak sunami). Yet many small businesses were unable to secure funding because they lacked the required documentation (business registration papers, proof of assets and so on), either because it was swept away or because prior to the tsunami, they were not required to register (Khao Lak SME Group representative, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 9 July 2005). Furthermore, claim limits of THB 500 000 (USD 14 650) and THB 300 000 (USD 8780) (from the SME Fund and Government Savings Bank respectively) were too low to make a substantial difference to the recovery of successful small business claimants (CR, restaurant and bungalow owner, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 13 July 2005).
The only other financial resources available for reconstruction were via commercial bank loans, family support and alternate livelihood sources. Preexisting loans held by some of the larger business owners coupled with doubts regarding Khao Lak's future financial viability limited the success of new applications (Phang Nga Tourism Association representative, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 9 July 2005). This reluctance to reinvest and finance rebuilding negatively affects Khao Lak's image as a tourist destination. While those with multiple businesses or livelihood sources were more able to aid their own recovery, the majority had to turn to family and friends families for support where possible.
The final component of the Andaman Tourism Recovery Plan concerned the restoration of consumer confidence and tourism flows to pre-tsunami levels. The Tourism Authority of Thailand was responsible for restoring consumer confidence on behalf of all the affected destinations by hosting familiarization trips for international and Thai tour operators and travel agents to affected areas, running aggressive promotional campaigns and offering discount packages (TAT, 2005). These promotions did prove effective for Phuket and Krabi (about 171 km south of Khao Lak). Khao Lak, however, was not included as, given the extent of damage sustained, recovery was thought unlikely (Tourism Authority of Thailand representative, pers. comm., Phuket, 7 July 2005). These preferences based on economic reasonings have resulted in the uneven distribution of financial and political support among affected communities, stimulating recovery in established destinations while heightening vulnerability levels in others – most notably Khao Lak.
Strong local representation. Disaster outcomes can also create opportunities for political reorganisation, solidarity and activism, and social transformation (Oliver-Smith, 1996). Much of Khao Lak's resilience is based on the strength, self-organization and adaptive capabilities of local groups. The Phang Nga Tourism Association (samakhom kanthongthieo changwat Phang Nga) and the Khao Lak SME Group were instrumental in petitioning the central government for more funding to hasten the rebuilding process, influencing development plans and accessing core markets to restore confidence and business. The skilful use of multiscaled actions by both parties in securing more capital resonates strongly with relational scale theory: recognizing scale as a fluid expression of power creates multiple opportunities for social transformation (Ellem, 2002; Herod & Wright, 2002; Howitt, 2003).
The Phang Nga Tourism Association (representative, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 9 July 2005) used its weekly meetings with the provincial governor to air grievances over delays and the uneven distribution of financial resources and used its close connections with the local parliamentary member (a former president of the association) to voice opinions regarding the future planning strategy for Khao Lak at the national level. Set up by a locally resident German business owner in direct response to the tsunami, the Khao Lak SME Group (representative, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 9 July 2005) successfully sourced additional funding from key markets including Germany through a Khao Lak accommodation website (http://www.khaolak.de) and distributed this equally among its members. The establishment of this group brought stability to many small business owners who lost everything and, by creating new landscapes of power and opportunity, heightened the community's adaptive capacity and resilience.
To restore consumer confidence, Phang Nga Tourism Association representatives successfully gained marketing support, particularly international brochure exposure, through long-established European partnerships that had facilitated Khao Lak's pre-tsunami boom – for example, although business for 2005 was diverted to other Thai destinations, Thomas Cook featured medium and large resorts in Khao Lak for the 2006 season (PY, resort owner, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 11 July 2005). Small resort owners continue to reach their market – the independent traveller – through locally controlled websites and guidebook exposure (WK, tour operator, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 10 July 2005). As the founder of the Khao Lak SME Group (Richard Doring, pers. comm., Khao Lak, 30 August 2005) pointed out, smaller resorts had greater control over their marketing tools and strategies and were more resilient in this respect than their larger counterparts.
Early warning system: a key component of tourism's recovery plan. The establishment of the UNESCO-led Indian Ocean Early Warning System was heralded by the government and tsunami affected communities as a crucial tool for increasing preparedness against future shocks, and helping to reassure tourists and hasten recovery (UN, 2005). In Thailand, the Department for Disaster Mitigation And Prevention and Ministry of Interior had oversight of its implementation in the six affected southern provinces. Functioning towers were erected in Phuket and Krabi by July 2005, but not until December 2005 in Khao Lak, well into the high season. No explanation was given for the delay, which caused some anger and frustration in the community and, among those interviewed, reinforced the government's perceived preference for restoring tourist confidence in the more lucrative neighbouring destinations. Some interviewees also attributed this to the ineffectiveness of the subdistrict and district authorities in communicating the concerns of the community to the national level. Whatever the reasoning, installation delays left the community vulnerable to possible tsunami threats and hindered their efforts in attracting tourism business back to Khao Lak.