Tue, 18 Apr 2000

Tourists cancel over jihad threats

JAKARTA (JP): At least three groups of tourists have canceled trips to Indonesia over the past two weeks because of reports of a planned holy war in Maluku, a senior tourism official said on Monday.

Deputy Minister for Tourism Product Development I Gede Ardika said he heard of the cancellations from hotel operators who said the tourists were put off by media photographs of sword-wielding men training for a jihad.

Police closed down on Sunday the military-style training camp in nearby Bogor which had been used by a Muslim organization to train volunteers for a holy war in Maluku. The group, Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force), has vowed to go forward with plans to send volunteers to Maluku at the end of the month.

"I hope (the cancellations) will not lead to wider consequences which could undermine the industry," Ardika told journalists after opening a training program for travel agency managers.

He said tourist arrivals in Indonesia had been affected by unrest in Lombok in January, but arrivals had begun to pick up in February. The total number of tourists traveling to Indonesia in the first two months of the year was 621,358.

Ardika expects 5 percent growth in visitor arrivals this year from the 4.8 million in 1999.

"We predict the number to reach 5.1 million visitors this year," he said. "If conditions remain stable, we are positive we can meet the target."

Some 30 managers from travel agencies across Indonesia are taking part in a four-day training program operated by Singapore Airlines (SIA) as part of its agreement with the Association of Indonesian Travel Agencies (Asita).

"Our challenge lies in competing for the tourist market in the ASEAN region five to 10 years from now," Ardika said. "To be able to compete, we have to train people at all levels to have internationally recognized competency."

The training program, conducted by SIA's Commercial Training Center (CTC), is one of 15 scheduled for the year and will focus on sales and marketing fundamentals.

"The training is aimed at equipping staff with the highest degree of service orientation, product knowledge, operational skills and selling effectiveness," CTC-SIA facilitator Matthew Ong said.

Other courses will be run by the Center for Travel Related Studies Singapore and the Service Quality Center Indonesia.

The program is part of an agreement reached by SIA and Asita last month to run a three-year training program for middle and junior-level managers of small and medium-size travel enterprises. SIA contributed Rp 3 billion as part of the agreement. (10)