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Bali Bombings Hinder Travel Plans

October 14, 2002

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With their honeymoon less than a week away, Brendan Bligh and Karen Daddona have only one thing to think about: where in the world to go.

The couple, who will be married on Saturday in Bordentown, N.J., had a trip to Bali planned for months. But since the weekend bombings that killed more than 180 people on the Indonesian island, the couple has been frantically searching the Internet and working with their travel agent to book a new trip.

``We have to decide pretty soon,″ Bligh, 26, said Monday. ``A lot of people who were going to Bali are now diverting to places like Thailand,″ where his travel agent fears the best accommodations could become scarce as a result.

The Bali bombings are causing aftershocks throughout the struggling travel industry, leading travelers and tour operators to temporarily cancel trips there and forcing travel agents to find suitable alternatives in a pinch.

With the State Department urging Americans to leave the popular resort island, industry officials said the violence would likely strengthen travelers’ desire to stay closer to home, a sentiment that gained force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

``Most people who are making travel plans on an elective basis″ _ that is, anyone except business travelers _ ``will probably decide not to go to Bali right now,″ said David Buda, executive vice president at Tzell Travel Group in New York. Instead, Buda expects to see more American travelers to exhibit ``the stay-at-home syndrome,″ or visit Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Hard-core surfers, who travel to Bali during hurricane season in search of massive waves, can still be counted on to venture to Bali, said John Dekker, manager of Carlson Wagonlit in Huntington Beach, Calif.

``These are people who look off the edge of the cliff anyway, so they’re not going to let something like this stop them,″ Dekker said. Dekker has five clients currently on a surfing trip in Bali and they do not plan to cut their travels short.

But for the most part, travel agents around the globe were canceling upcoming trips to the Indonesian resort.

Club Med suspended travel to its Bali ``village″ for a week. The Coral Gables, Fla.-based company is offering to send customers to a different resort through Oct. 20, or will allow them to rebook their trip for sometime in the future.

For the 600 Club Med vacationers already in Bali, ``all the excursions have been canceled,″ a spokeswoman said.

All British tour operators, meanwhile, have canceled tours to Bali over the next few days and are offering penalty-free cancellations and alternative tours to affected clients. Britain’s Foreign Office is warning Britons not to go to Bali at all and to avoid Indonesia except on essential business.

Thom Nulty, the chief executive of Navigant International, a corporate travel agency, said he did not expect any significant decline in business trips to Indonesia. ``Because of the economy, business travel has already been cut down to essential travel,″ Nulty said.

The Association of British Travel Agents said leisure tourists are generally undeterred in the long run by the threat of terrorism. Despite the 1997 attack in Luxor, Egypt, the threat posed by the PKK in Turkey and the Basque separatist group Eta in Spain, tourists still traveled to those countries in large numbers, said Keith Betton, the association’s head of corporate affairs.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation and has gotten a reputation as a dangerous place for travelers in recent years because of the rise of radical Islam there and around the world. Bali, however, is mostly Hindu and had always been considered relatively safe. That peaceful image has certainly been tarnished, although travel agents were hopeful it wouldn’t ruin the island’s all-important tourism industry.

``It could be a couple of years before the island recovers. But it will recover,″ Betton said. ``I don’t think people are going to be put off visiting Muslim countries.″

Magnus Ranstorp, terrorism expert at St. Andrews University’s Center for Terrorism and Political Violence, disagreed.

``There will be an immediate effect in terms of reluctance to travel. It is not unusual to hit tourist targets, but this is on a completely different scale,″ he said.

Bligh and Daddona say if Thailand doesn’t work out as a honeymoon spot, they will consider Bora Bora, Mauritius or Hawaii, but Bali is definitely off the list.

``The likelihood of something happening again in Bali may be pretty small,″ Bligh said, ``but if it does, it’s a pretty big risk to take.″

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