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Tue 1 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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The slow road to recovery

Middle East travellers once flocked to Indonesia, but the recent onslaught of natural disasters and terrorism attacks in the region have thwarted business

Pre-9/11, Indonesia was a top selling destination out of the Middle East and Bali was the most favoured option.

But tourism arrivals plummeted after the Bali bombings of October 2002 and attempts at recovery have been shattered by a series of setbacks since then.

December 2004 saw the country devastated by a tsunami, an earthquake in the popular tourist town of Yogyakarta claimed the lives of more than 5700 in May and last month a quake measuring 7.7 on the Richter Scale sent a two-metre tsunami crashing into the Pangandaran coast, killing more than 650 people.

As a result, while tourism in other Asian destinations hit by the 2004 tsunami are showing strong signs of recovery, Indonesia is struggling to survive.

Hotels in particular have been badly affected by the string of disasters; some physically, and others simply by the knock-on affect the events had on inbound tourism.

“Unfortunately, if travellers in this region plan to go on holiday to Asia, unless they really have a burning ambition to go to Bali, it’s not the first place they think of,†said Jacqueline Campbell, managing director, The Travel Collection, who represents several luxury properties in Asia, including The Legian in Bali.

“Because of all the happenings in Indonesia recently, Bali now has a [negative] stigma and that’s a shame because it’s such a great place to go for relaxation and value for money.

It’s pretty and it’s scenic,†she added.

She said the only Middle East travellers still choosing Bali for a holiday were couples and honeymooners.

However, some industry professionals are optimistic that the impact of the recent earthquakes on tourism, like that of the tsunami, will be a short-lived and some hotel groups are already witnessing and increase in the number of guests visiting from the Middle East.

“Indonesia is back on track for us and we are trying to push The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta for the leisure market this summer,†explained Anees Awwad, regional director of sales, Middle East, for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC.

“There have been problems there, but people fortunately have a short memory span. We are able to capitalise on Emirates Airlines’ [frequent] flights to Jakarta.â€

The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta opened 18 months ago and Awwad said the company had endeavoured to educate travel agents in the Middle East about the property.

“It’s difficult to place business in the first year, but in the Middle East, it’s all word of mouth, so as soon as one family goes there, other s will follow.â€

The Bulgari Hotel, which will be managed by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company L.L.C, will open its doors in Bali in October and is expected to attract High Net Worth (HNW) travellers from the Middle East, Awwad added.

But he did concede that although Indonesia was bouncing back in the face of adversity, The Ritz-Carlton Company’s properties in Malaysia and Singapore; The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur and The Ritz-Carlton Singapore, were proving more popular.

Tour operators concur that Asia is a burgeoning outbound market this summer, but most claim Thailand is driving this demand.

“Jakarta as a leisure destination hasn’t really taken off.

We are getting some people go to Bali, mainly honeymooners, but most prefer Bangkok or the Thai islands because they are easier to reach,†said Julia Denny, planning and purchasing manager, Etihad Holidays.

She explained that the flight to Bangkok from Abu Dhabi was just six hours compared to the nine-hour flight to Jakarta and that customers travelling on to Bali would have to stop in Jakarta overnight before catching a domestic flight to the island.

“Nothing is really helping Indonesia [get back on track].

It’s a volatile area, but we will continue to feature it in our brochure and would consider offering special promotions [to the destination],†she added.

Emirates Holidays has scaled back its Indonesia programme according to Hans Haensel, senior vice president, destination & leisure management division, Emirates.

“We did have quite extensive coverage of Indonesia, but then with things happening there, we reduced this to just Bali, because bookings were down,†he said.

But Davinda Kaur, destination development manager, Asia and Australasia for Emirates Holidays is confident that in time, tourism to Indonesia will recover.

“While recent events have slowed general travel to Indonesia, interest in specific areas such as Bali remains.

An extended period of stability would see an increase in business to the destination,†she said.

“Emirates Holidays is committed to promoting Indonesia, although we are monitoring any events that happen and acting on developments as appropriate.â€

Stringent procedures were in place to ensure the safety of customers visiting volatile destinations such as these, she added.

Emirates Holidays has included two pages on Indonesia in its World of Choice brochure for 2006, featuring properties in Jakarta and trips to the temples in Borobudur and Jogjakarta Palace, but Bali is no longer included.

However, the operator will cater to the demands of customers wishing to explore Indonesian destinations not featured.

A decision is yet to be made as to whether it Bali will feature in next year’s brochure.

}Nothing is really helping Indonesia [get back on track].

It's a volatile area.~

The Sales Pitch

Sample packages:

Emirates Holidays: three nights in Jakarta staying in a three-star hotel on a bed-and-breakfast basis and including economy class airfares, airport/hotel/airport transfers, room tax and service charges costs AED 2250 (US $613) per person.

Four nights in Bali based on five-star accommodation lead in at AED 4382 ($1193) per person.

Emirates flies from Dubai to Jakarta 10 times per week.

Etihad Holidays: prices start at AED 2175 ($592) per person for three nights in the four-star 275-room Santika Hotel, including return airfares, transfers and breakfast.

Add AED 415 ($113) per person per night for packages to Bali, excluding domestic airfares.

Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta six times per week.

Connecting flights to Bali are operated by several carriers including Malaysian Airlines and Garuda.

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