The bomb blasts in Bali last year affected not only tourism on the island but throughout Indonesia as well. The Indonesian Culture and Tourism Agency tells JANE RITIKOS about efforts to revive the industry and how Malaysians can play a role.
IMMEDIATELY after the bomb blasts ripped through Kuta's popular Sari Club and Paddy's club in Bali, killing 186 people on Oct 12, rescuers were busy trying to save survivors and recover bodies of the victims.
But the toll was not only in the human victims. The blasts also severely hit Indonesia's tourism industry, forcing the government to quickly embark on another kind of rescue programme.
Before the bombings, Bali had been perceived as a peaceful and safe tourist destination that was free of the political and economic turmoil which seemed to be afflicting the rest of Indonesia.
The incident, with most of the dead being young foreign tourists, had a devastating impact on one of the world's most renowned island resort, where some 80% of its 3.2 million population rely on tourism for their livelihood.
Occupancy rates at Bali hotels plunged to below 10% from an average of 70% - mostly of foreign visitors - before the blasts. Foreign arrivals at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport, which averaged 4,650 daily in the two-week period before the attack, sharply dropped to only 750 on Oct 30.
Knowing that it would also impact on the rest of the country in many aspects, the Indonesian government quickly drew up strategies aimed at winning the tourists back. The government had to do this as “other regions with strong migration, labour market or supply linkages to the Balinese economy, including Central and East Java and Lombok, would be affected,” said Indonesia Culture and Tourism Agency (ICTA) executive secretary Nunus Supardi in an interview recently.
“As foreigners stay away from Bali, they will also stay away from other tourist destinations such as Yogjyakarta and Lombok.”
Tourism is the second largest contributor to the country's economy after the oil and gas sector. It contributed US$4.8bil (RM18.2bil) in foreign exchange in 2001and US$4.5bil (RM17.1bil) last year. Tourism contributes 9.5% towards Indonesia's Gross Domestic Products.
“Shortly after the bombing, Japan, one of our main source of tourists, issued travel warnings, followed by other Western countries. Many visitors cancelled their trips to Bali.
“This is a tragedy the bombers did not care about and the world will not see,” said Nunus.
To restore Indonesia's image and economy, a team comprising three government agencies was set up to develop a four-phase recovery
programme to woo foreign visitors back. A budget of US$17mil (RM64.6mil) was allocated for the programme this year.
“We want to rebuild the good image of Indonesia which was perceived as an unsafe destination after the blast. This is not only for Bali but also Jakarta, Bandung, Ambon, Makasar and Sulawesi,” Nunus said.
The first phase, which ran from October to December last year, saw the creation of a media centre that fed local and foreign journalists with up-to-date information on the situation after the blasts.
Road shows were also conducted in several countries in Asia and Australia (most of the tourists who died in the blast were Austra- lians) to provide information on the situation and to show sympathy, but not to do sales.
“Giving information on the actual situation is very important to prevent inaccurate rumours from spreading,” said Nunus. “We explained that the bombings could happen anywhere and assured them of the government's commitment, including in tightening security and the laws and apprehending those responsible for the terrible act.”
Families of the victims of the blasts were invited to a purification ceremony on Nov 15 in Bali and were given free accommodation for 10 days, transport and flights. “We wanted to show them our sympathy and to show them Bali so that they won't have a horrible perception of the country,” Nunus said.
Familiarisation trips for tour operators and tourism journalists were also conducted.
The ICTA, said Nunus was also implementing, in co-operation with other institutions, a safety programme to rebuild visitor confidence and to increase level of security and safety.
This included providing security equipment in airports and seaports and more emergency facilities in hospitals in the main tourist destinations.
A total of US$13.4mil (RM50.9mil) was budgeted for tourism promotion programmes, a 348% growth from the previous year's budget of US$3mil (RM11.4mil).
Seen as the rehabilitation period, the second phase (from January to June) will focus on boosting tourists arrivals from Indonesia's immediate neighbour, Malaysia. “We have so much in common. Culturally and linguistically, we are similar so Malaysians will feel at home in Indonesia. We also have a close partnership in Asean,” Nunus said.
He also pointed out that Malaysians were the third highest number of tourists to visit Indonesia in 2001 after Singapore and Japan, and that it jumped to second place last year replacing Japan.
“We are promoting Batam, Bintan (near Riau), North and West Sumatra, Jogjakarta and Lombok Island (nearest island to Bali) to Malaysians,” said Nunus.
This month, Indonesia is hosting the PATA annual conference, and it has declared this year as “Marine and Heritage Year”.
“Indonesia is 70% marine. For Malaysians, we are attracting them to the many islands in the archipelago focussing on cultural heritage and marine tourism in the form of cruises and sport fishing.
“Malaysians like food, garments and shopping, which we have plenty to offer,” said ICTA deputy director for promotion for Asia, Surya Dharma.
Previous tourism promotions had centred on “Bali plus 9” (North and West Sumatra, Jakarta, East and West Java, Jogjakarta, South and North Sulawesi and West Nusatenggara, he said. Now, Batam (popular among Singaporeans) and Bintan will be added on to the list.
“But this doesn't mean we'll no longer focus on Bali. It remains the centre for tourism for Indonesia,” he said.
The agency will also optimise its presence at international tourism and cultural conferences. It participated at the recent Matta International Trade Fair in Kuala Lumpur.
For the Australian market, Indonesia's Culture and Tourism Minister I Gede Ardika visited his counterpart in Australia and travel agencies in the country to give the assurance that Bali was a safe place to visit.
From July to December (the normalisation period), the promotion strategy will focus on short and medium haul flights from countries such as Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia and Australia.
“In the past, our focus was on short, medium and long haul flights but tourists from Europe and United States are apprehensive about travelling far due to the unstable security situation around the world,” Surya said.
During the expansion period in 2004, tourism efforts will be expanded to countries not considered as Indonesia's traditional tourism markets. During this phase, the new tourism markets are South Africa, China, India, Russia, East Europe and the Middle East.
The agency's concerted efforts to restore the tourism industry to the level it was before the Bali blasts reflect the importance of the sector to Indonesia's economic well-being.
“We have to be confident of being able to overcome the negative consequences of the Bali tragedy. Any effort should be carried out to make us confident,” said Surya.
Malaysia and Indonesia should increase their tourism co-operation, said Surya. He believes both countries are not “real competitors” but could complement each other, especially in promoting long-haul holidays.
“What we are promoting to the other countries is to come and visit Indonesia and they can also visit Malaysia because of our close proximity.
“Travel agents in both countries can have tour packages designed to promote both. Some are already doing it but we hope to increase this kind of co-operation,” he said.
On the war in Iraq, Surya said he does not believe Indonesia's tourism would suffer another setback because of it. Expecting it to be “a blessing in disguise,” he said: “We think tourists will instead prefer to go to Asia rather than Europe or the Middle East.”