Thu, 29 May 2003

SARS worse than Iraq war, Bali bombings for tourism

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

State Minister of Culture and Tourism I Gede Ardika says that if the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was not contained soon, Indonesia expected to see a plunge in the number of tourist arrivals and foreign exchange earnings by year's end.

The minister told the House of Representatives Commission VI on education and tourism on Wednesday that the outbreak of the flu-like illness in Asia had affected the tourist industry more severely than the Iraq war and the Bali bombings.

"After the Bali bombings, the tourist industry was on its way to recovery in spite of the war in Iraq, but the outbreak of SARS has begun to damage the country's tourist industry," he said, adding that in mid-March, the average number of foreign tourist arrivals in Bali already stood at 2,700 per day, exceeding the target of 2,000.

He said that due to the outbreak of SARS, the number of tourist arrivals nationwide in the first four months of 2003 stood at 1,240,640, only 77.5 percent of the targeted 1,600,000.

"If the outbreak of SARS is not contained immediately, the year-end figure is likely to reach only 3,266,846, far lower than the target of 4.8 million," he said.

Due to the outbreak of SARS, many airlines such as Qantas, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines and Eva Air have cut down their flights to Indonesia. Flights to Indonesia have dropped by about 25 percent to 45 percent, said the minister.

As a consequence, the country stood to lose a significant amount of foreign exchange earnings, Ardika said.

"During the first four months of 2003, foreign exchange earnings from the tourist industry was estimated at US$931.6 million, 35 percent lower than the $1.4 billion recorded in the same period last year," he told legislators.

A report from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) showed that the number of foreign tourist arrivals in 2002 fell by 2.33 percent to 5.03 million, from 5.15 million in 2001.

The BPS report also said that foreign exchange earnings from foreign tourists nose-dived to $4.3 billion in 2002, from $5.4 billion in 2001.

The tourist industry is still the second largest non-oil and gas foreign exchange earner after the textile and garment industry. Currently, there are around 8 million people employed in the tourist industry.

Former chairman of the now-disbanded Tourism and Culture Development Body (BP Budpar) Setyanto P. Santoso attested that after the Bali bombings, efforts to rejuvenate the tourist industry had been undertaken, but the SARS panic had dampened all attempts.

"What we are doing now is showing the world that Indonesia is SARS-free, and are embarking on a campaign called `No SARS, Good News' -- instead of `No SARS, No News'," Setyanto said.

Foreign exchange earnings from tourist industry (in US$ million)

2002 2003

January 337.1 237.5 February 349.9 243.1 March 402.9 259.1 April 360.4 191.9


1,450.3 931.6