Bali Security Continues to Be Tight

Security in Bali remains tight, as the government does not want another incident to scare off tourists

By: Anne Burke

BALI, Indonesia Blond and bikinied, Margie Kerley, a school administrator from Odessa, Texas, stretched out on a chaise lounge on the beach outside her five-star hotel in the Nusa Dua resort enclave.

A few yards behind her, a uniformed guard silently scanned the stretch of golden sand. Above him, a tiny security camera took in the scene from its discreet perch on a tree branch. And inside Kerley’s hotel, the Sheraton Laguna, security personnel monitored beach activity via closed-circuit TV.

All of the attention had to do with Kerley’s personal safety. Across this tropical island, hotels, restaurants and government authorities have upped security in an effort to lure back vacationers scared by last October’s nightclub bombing that killed more than 200 people.

Guards at the Four Seasons Resorts at Jimbaran and Sayan now sweep mirrors along the undercarriages of vehicles, searching for car bombs; their counterparts at the Grand Bali Beach at Sanur wave metal detectors over luggage.

Some hotels have installed boom gates over entrances, and guards hold the identification papers of local drivers entering the properties. The Four Seasons and nearby Ritz-Carlton, among other hotels, have doubled their security staffs.

“We have 40 security officers on staff working in three shifts, so there are always more than 10 patrolling the premises,” said Putu Indrawati, Four Seasons’ public relations director in Bali.

Even the trendy Casa Luna restaurant in Ubud, where the biggest danger to tourists seems to be the calorie-laden desserts, posts a guard at the entrance.

The number of police on the island has doubled and officers are taking advantage of new legal authority to detain and question suspected terrorists, said Krishna Hannan, an Indonesian vice consul in San Francisco.

Security forces at key ports conduct routine screenings of ferry passengers, and travelers using Ngurah Rai Airport must produce an airline ticket and pass a security screening to get inside the building.

The security comes as trials have started in Denpasar for several of those charged in last October’s bombing. Police have blamed the attack on outside Muslim extremists linked to Al Qaeda, and dozens of arrests have been made. Still, the U.S. State Department continues to advise against nonessential travel to Indonesia, warning of continued unrest in some regions.

During the first five months of this year, about 11,250 Americans vacationed in Bali, only half as many as during the same period last year, according to government statistics.

For those travelers who do head to Bali, the bombing is hard to reconcile with the mellow atmosphere of the current tourist scene on the island.

Seth Silverstein, a Los Angeles management consultant sightseeing recently in Ubud with his girlfriend, Lisa Hochberg, said the probability of another bombing “is just infinitesimally small.”

For many, the travel bargains have been a big lure. With occupancy rates dipping to 20 percent, many hotels have been lowering prices, waiving tax and service charges, or offering free excursions and breakfasts.

Christy Wills and her mother, Beverly, both of Whidbey Island, Wash., said they paid $540 round-trip airfare from Seattle.

Jim Cramer, owner of Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Islands Express travel agency, has booked Bali trips since 1984.

Cramer said he advises clients traveling to Indonesia to stay alert and avoid franchises like McDonald’s.

“Other than that, I tell them everything is cool,” he said.