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9 Sep, 2002

Indonesian Travel Groups Oppose Attack on Iraq

JAKARTA: In what could be an industry first, Indonesian travel and tourism associations are to mount a joint campaign to oppose an attack on Iraq.

Citing the small but steady recovery taking place in one of the country’s leading foreign exchange earning industries, the Indonesian Tourism Council and the Indonesian Tourism Promotion Board (ITPB) are rallying the support of several other industry associations in drafting a letter to the US embassy in Jakarta.

The moves were unveiled at the country’s annual trade show, the Travel Indonesia Exhibition and Mart, which for the first time in five years went off successfully without being upset by any broader domestic or international political incident.

According to ITPB Vice Chairman Mrs Meity Robot, the letter will stress that a recovery in tourism is essential to the recovery of the national economy. With the high season coming up, the industry can ill afford another shock that will affect business and lead to the further loss of thousands of jobs.

Mr Marco Umbas, VP Marketing Planning and Development of Garuda Indonesia, said the national airline would support the campaign. He said associations representing the country’s tour operators and convention businesses had been sounded out and agreed in principle with the move.

Mrs Robot said the letter would be carefully drafted to keep clear of politics while stressing only the negative impact an attack would have on tourism and the people of Indonesia. Copies would be sent to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, and a Press conference called to announce it.

A number of Americans and Europeans attending the travel trade show said they agreed with the move.

Mr Phil Hill, general manager of the Istana Rama hotel in Bali said he was totally against an attack on Iraq. He said that ever since the 1997 economic crisis and the political unrest that followed the removal of President Suharto, Indonesian tourism had experienced “nothing but peaks and valleys.”

“No sooner that a recovery begins, that something else happens. We are only just beginning to recover from Sept 11. Another attack will be disaster for us,” Mr Hill said, noting that the critical Japanese business had only just returned to normal.

Mr Guido Brink, a European and co-owner of Indonesia Cruises, agreed that the industry should take every legitimate action to protect its interests. “Last year, after Sept 11, the Nusa Dua (a popular beach on Bali, like Patong in Phuket) hotels let off a lot of people. Okay it was temporary but it still was not good. As it is, the butter on the bread is thin and these things just make it worse.”

Both Mr Hill and Mr Brink made some private comments about the Bush administration which they declined to have published.

Nancy Nevis and Nancy Gimblin, both from a US wholesaler specialising in scuba-diving tours, said they, too, opposed an attack. They said business to Indonesia and Malaysia had dropped after Sept 11 and an attack would worsen things.

They said they were continuing to contract in Indonesia in anticipation that the situation would remain normal. Neither had felt any threat to personal safety; inspite of making her first trip to Indonesia, Mrs Nevis had spent several days in Torajaland, in central Sulawesi, where there have been some religious riots recently.

Mr Nick Deacock, Product Manager of Garuda Orient Holidays in Australia, said an attack would severely hurt the Australian market, a bedrock of tourism to Bali, the only Indonesian destination that has a good image in the global market and selling reasonably well.

He said that inspite of public opinion to the contrary, the Australian government appears to be supporting an attack on Iraq. Nevertheless, he said, if an attack leads to a backlash by Indonesian religious groups, the travel advisories will be re-issued and significantly hurt tourism from Australia.

Traffic from the Middle East to Indonesia is beginning to rise but Mr Khalid Steiteyeh, Manager, Holidays Division of the Jeddah-based tour operator Holidays Gate, said even that would disappear. The effects of an attack will be felt “all through the Gulf countries,” he said.

Overall, all those interviewed indicated that with the sole exception of the ASEAN market, arrivals to Indonesia would be hit across the board.

Garuda’s Senior VP Commercial Mr Bachrul Hakim said, “I pray to God that (an attack) will not happen, but we are watching the situation closely.”

In their comments at TIME, senior Indonesian industry executives rued the damage suffered by tourism in the past and talked in upbeat tones about the recovery.

Tourism and Culture Minister Mr I.Gede Ardika, a Balinese, said that in 2001, visitor arrivals had plunged after Sept 11 but ended the year with a slight increase to 5,153,620. Arrivals in January-June had totalled 2,058,809, which was up over the same period of last year.

“We are expecting that arrivals in 2002 would be higher than in 2001,” he said.

ITPB and TCI chairman Mr Pontjo Sutowo said the recovery was “proof that tourism – in the world and in Indonesia – has survived and in some places has even improved.”

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Mr Yusuf Kallo said, “Taking into account the current slowdown of the country’s economic growth, it might not be too exaggerating to say that tourism is the most well prepared sector to bring the country’s economy back to normal growth as we had experienced before the economic crisis started to hit the country severely since the second half of 1997.

“Given this, we may say that tourism is one of the most promising sectors that can accelerate the process of national economic recovery.”

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