Thu, Jan 19, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Bali caught in post-terror doldrums

REPEATED ATTACKS The suicide bombing last October has dampened tourist interest just as the island was starting to recover from the 2002 blasts


Last year's deadly terror attacks on Bali have soured the outlook for tourism this year, and government efforts to revive the sector are falling short, industry officials said.

The Oct. 1 suicide bombings on three crowded restaurants killed 20 people and scared off international tourists, the lifeblood of Bali's economy and a key generator of badly needed foreign currency for the Indonesian government.

Since then, official measures to bolster security and promote Bali as a safe tourist destination have been ineffective, according to hotel owners and tourism lobby groups, who said they're worried about the future of their industry.

"There are no concrete steps yet on security measures, and if the government is not responsive ... I'm worried this will hinder the recovery in tourism," said Tjokorda Oka Sukawati, chairman of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Foreign tourist arrivals to Bali dropped 5 percent last year from a year earlier to 1.39 million, falling short of the 1.6 million target, according to Bali's statistics agency.

The attacks blamed on the al-Qaeda-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah came just as a recovery in Bali's tourist industry was gaining traction following 2002 attacks on two nightclubs that killed 202 people, and an Asia-wide travel slump in 2003 because of SARS.

Many industry officials said they don't expect foreign tourist arrivals in Bali this year to reach last year's level.

"We have lost the momentum [for recovery]," said Bagus Sudibya of the Bali Tourism Board, a lobby group of hotels, restaurants and tour operators.

He said Bali is losing around US$2 million daily.

Tourist spending is desperately needed, constituting 85 percent of Bali's economy and five percent of the country's annual gross domestic product -- the bulk of which comes from the resort island.

Hotels haven't laid off employees yet, but around 60 percent of staff are told to stay home, receiving 50 percent of their salary.

"Our occupancy rate was 90 percent during the year-end holidays, but booking for February is still nine percent," said I Putu Ekawati, an assistant manager at Bali's five-star Nusa Dua Bali Beach Hotel and Spa. "It's very sad."

Official efforts to prevent future terror attacks include the creation of the Bali Security Council, tasked with integrating security operations from the village to the provincial level.

Bali's former police chief, Made Mangku Pastika, has proposed a regional law requiring security systems, including closed-circuit television cameras, in all hotels, restaurants, and public areas.

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