Thu, 03 Apr 2003

War and SARS adversely affecting tourism: BPS

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The current war in Iraq coupled with the outbreak of a potentially deadly pneumonia-like disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), are threatening the country's tourist industry, which is still struggling to recover from the impact of the Oct. 12 Bali terrorist attack, the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) said.

"The number of tourists visiting Bali has been on the decline since the war broke out last month," Slamet Mukeno, the deputy chief of BPS, said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Slamet said that number of tourist arrivals at Ngurah Rai airport in Bali, which is a barometer of the industry nationwide, was recorded at 2,500 per day from March 1 to March 20.

But, after the war broke out on March 20, the number of tourist arrivals at the airport dropped to 2,300 per day, he added.

"The figure was recorded from March 21 to March 29 or after the war, showing that the war may have contributed to the decline of tourists in Bali," said Slamet.

Several industry leaders previously warned that foreign tourists might cancel their plans to visit Indonesia and other countries in the South East Asian region due to the war and the reactions to it here.

Massive protests in Indonesia against the U.S.-led war in Iraq have created a sense of unease among would-be foreign visitors that they could become a target of anti-western protesters here.

Another factor is in terms of transportation. Since the war broke out, airlines, particularly those from Europe, have had to re-route several flights to avoid the conflict in the Middle East, thus raising transportation costs. More Significantly, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, among others, have completely canceled many routes due to SARS.

In addition to the war in Iraq, the outbreak of SARS in Asia has apparently also put people off from traveling around the region, especially by airlines.

A senior official at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture had previously warned that the impact of SARS on Indonesia's tourism industry could be more damaging than the war.

The above two factors look set to once again bring down the country's tourism industry, which has just started to recover from the devastating impact of the Oct. 12 attack, which had killed more than 200 people mostly foreign tourists.

The tourism industry is seen as a crucial sector for the Indonesian economy particularly as exports had slowed down amid uncertainty in the global economy.

Since the terrorist attack in Bali, the government had launched various programs to help the tourism industry recover.

Indeed, there were some positive signs. "The number of tourists visiting Bali in February increased by 8.97 percent to 72,000 in February from the previous month's 66,000," said BPS chief Soedarti Surbakti.

In November last year, or one month after the bomb blasts, the number of tourists who visited Bali was recorded at 35,107.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign tourists visiting Indonesia increased in February by 3.73 percent to 289,800 from 279,400 in the previous month, BPS said.