Tue, 25 Feb 2003

Australia tourism players support Bali recovery

Rita A.Widiadana and I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Sanur, Bali

Despite the travel advisory imposed by the Australian government, that country's travel and tourism industry leaders, currently meeting in the Sanur resort area, have expressed their full confidence in Bali's market and indicated that significant marketing of the destination would commence soon.

John King, a spokesman for the delegation and a consultant at Gavin Anderson & Company, said after concluding the four-day meeting, that the time had arrived for Bali to increase its presence in the Australian market.

"We all recognize that what happened in Bali is the most serious problem confronting any destination in the modern history of world tourism. In effect, it was an attack on world tourism and this unprecedented problem will require an unprecedented response," King said.

The gathering, which started Feb. 22, involved major tourism and travel industry players in Australia with the aim of discussing initiatives to increase visitor numbers to the island, to inspect improvements to safety, security and health services, and to experience the real condition of Bali after the Oct. 12 terrorist attack.

Among the participants were representatives of: Australian Tourism Task Force, Pacific Asia Travel Association, Council of Australian Tour Operators, International Tourism Training Services, Harvey World Travel, Australian MICE Industry, Qantas Airways, Qantas Holidays, Garuda Indonesia, Air Paradise International, Flight Center, San Michele Travel/Indonesia Travel Center, and New Horizons Holidays.

The meeting was also attended by Senator for South Australia Alan Fergusson, Federal Member for Cook Bruce Baird, Federal Member for Curti Julie Bishop, Austrade, the Australia Indonesia Business Council, the Embassy of Indonesia in Canberra and the Indonesian Culture and Tourist Agency (ICTA).

"Bali is still a very sensitive issue in Australia and many have memories of immense sadness at this time. However, many millions of Australians do have fond memories of Bali," King said.

Last year's Oct. 12 bombing of two nightclubs, the Sari Club and Paddy's Cafe, in the glittering Kuta tourist haven claimed around 202 victims, 82 of whom were Australians.

Since the attacks, the Australian government has imposed a travel advisory against traveling to Bali and other destinations in Indonesia, mainly for security reasons.

Bali is a favorite holiday spot for many Australians, especially young travelers who love surfing and other water sports. A short-distance and low-cost holiday was the driving factor in their choosing Bali.

In the five years before Oct. 12, 2002, as many as one million Australians spent their holidays in Bali, and their number was only second to Japanese tourists. After the bombings, however, thousands of Australians were forced to cancel or to postpone their trips to Bali indefinitely. In addition, the rigid travel advisory made Bali a less desirable holiday destination, although tourists continued to trickle in, many to pay homage to the site of the bombings and in memoriam of the victims.

It is now four months after the bombings, and Bali is once again growing in demand among Australians as a holiday destination.

"The Australian Travel Industry stands ready to commence the marketing of Bali with the Indonesian government, the Bali regional government and Indonesia's travel industry," said a communique issued at the end of the meeting.

Senator Alan Fergusson mentioned that it was hard for the Australian government to lift the present travel advisory.

"We are here to see for ourselves the impact of the travel advisory on the island's tourism industry. It would be possible for us to review it again if we found it seriously affecting the industry and the people as well," the senator said.

King added that, "We (the Australians) have to accept that travel advisories will be around for some time in today's international climate, and that the position of foreign governments must be respected."

Travel advisories, he said, were not the sole barriers to travel to Bali and that a sense of safety and security, as well as a holiday atmosphere, rated more highly in the minds of potential travelers.

In the communique read out on Monday morning, all delegates recognized that the Indonesian authorities had made significant steps towards improving safety, security and medical services.

"If necessary, we could arrange General Pastika (chief of Bali bombing joint investigative team) to visit Australia and to explain Indonesia's efforts in dealing with the Bali bombing case and its suspects, so that all people in Australia will hear directly from him," proposed one participant.

However, the delegation urged the Indonesian government and tourism authorities to work cooperatively with their judicial system to ensure that the exposure of the alleged perpetrators of the October attacks was minimized, as it was causing enormous distress and ongoing negative publicity for Bali in Australia and in the international arena.

The recent broad news coverage in both print and electronic media of the Bali bombing suspects, including Amrozi and Ali Imron's gross insensitivity in regards the victims and their families, have caused a furor among the public in Australia, especially the victims' families.

"Such news coverage really hurt many people in Australia and will prevent them from visiting the island," King said.