Just over two weeks ago, tsunami in the Indian Ocean wreaked death and destruction along hundreds of miles of coastline in 13 countries across two continents, following the world's biggest earthquake in more than 40 years.
Although the numbers of dead and missing are still being counted, affected nations, including Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives, are starting to focus on how to resurrect the tourism industry and lure back Western visitors, who are so crucial to the rebuilding process.
In Thailand, where the tsunami killed more than 5000 people (half of whom were foreigners) across the tourist hot-spot of Phuket, its neighbouring islands and the luxurious Khao Lak resort, the government is to invest $700m (£372m) to rebuild its tourism industry.
Tourism accounts for 6% of Thailand's economy and, according to Richard Hume, marketing director of the Thai Tourist Board in London, the country was enjoying its best year for UK and Irish visitors, with more than 600,000 having visited the country in the past 12 months.
As part of the emergency investment, the Thai government is to send senior officials to countries that suffered high death tolls, including Sweden, Germany and the UK, to offer their condolences.
A high-profile advertising drive, which will back the message that 'Thailand is back', is expected to run in most European countries later this year, although the financial focus is currently being placed on rebuilding the affected areas as quickly as possible.
The Thai tourist board has postponed a UK outdoor campaign, which was due to break this month, but Hume is adamant it will run in the next few months, with the focus on unaffected parts of the country.
While he admits that tourism will be badly affected by the catastrophe in the short term, Hume is confident that British visitors will return in their droves next year and has asked the Thai government for an increased promotional budget for this year. 'We are encouraging people to go back,' he says. 'Not all of the country was affected and despite media reports, there are areas of Phuket that are still open for business.'
Charmarie Maelge, director of London's Sri Lankan Tourist Board, is also upbeat about the future and insistent that tourists should not stay away, despite the fact that more than 30,000 people died in the worst-hit areas.
'Tourism is one of the biggest economic activities for our country, so it has to recover. We are actively telling tourists to visit, as fewer than half our hotels are in the affected areas. If they don't come back, it will be a double blow for the country.'
With the death toll currently sitting at more than 150,000 and rising, there is a delicate balance to be struck between actively promoting the disaster-hit region to lure back the much-needed tourist dollar and respecting the dead and missing. 'We have to find a balance between being sensitive and respectful, but not too sensationalist. Thailand needs support from tourists, sooner rather than later,' says Hume.
While advertising campaigns will play a major part in reviving the countries' fortunes, most industry watchers believe PR and word of mouth will be far more effective.
To build on this, Thailand and Sri Lanka are planning press trips for newspapers' travel correspondents to spread the message that some resorts will be open for business in the next few weeks.
Keith Betton, head of corporate affairs for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), says the main challenge facing the affected countries and travel operators will be to persuade tourists who have never been to the region to visit for the first time.
Just before the tsunami hit on Boxing Day, the long-haul travel industry was enjoying its best year to date, with more British tourists than ever travelling further afield, following years of concern triggered by the September 11 attacks and the two Gulf wars.
ABTA plans to work with the operators and tourist boards on an 'education process', which will come into effect in early summer, aimed at rebuilding confidence ahead of next year's peak season.
A co-ordinated PR offensive will be far more effective than a multimillion-pound advertising campaign, according to Betton, who says ads will cause prospective visitors to remember the scenes of devastation and opt not to go.
'Third-party endorsement and the facts will work much better,' he says.
'The official bodies will advertise, but need to back that up with intensive PR to allay any fears people may have.'
These one-time tropical paradises desperately need tourist income to restore confidence in their economies, but this will take more than rebuilt resorts and expensive advertising, despite being all they can realistically do in the short term. That is the scale of the disaster and the challenge the region still faces.
DATA FILE - US TOURISM
The day after the 11 September terrorist attacks, Texas ad agency GSD&M teamed up with US ad body the Ad Council to create a public-service announcement to reassure citizens. 'I am an American' was distributed to media outlets nationwide and was on air within 10 days.
Less than a year later in 2002, New York began a tourism drive after seeing visitor numbers fall by more than 14% since the atrocities. At its heart was a £24m ad campaign urging people to 'Come see New York in its finest hour'.
At the end of last year, US Congress allocated £3.2m for the first generic campaign to urge more Britons to visit.
International tourism to the US grew 12% to 85m arrivals in the first eight months of last year, according to the Global Travel Report. The number of British tourists travelling to the US has risen since 2002, but the fallout from 9/11 is still being felt.
This article was first published on Marketing