Jakarta Blast Worries Few in U.S.

The hotel bombing in Jakarta last week has not significantly affected travel.

By: Lisa Jennings

The hotel bombing in Jakarta last week was expected to reawaken fears about traveling to Indonesia. Still, increasing reports of potential threats of terrorism in the United States had not significantly affected travel as of Aug. 6.

Press reports last week varied, but some sources said up to 17 people were killed and about 150 injured after a car bomb ripped through the J.W. Marriott in Jakarta last Tuesday. The attack was thought to be aimed at U.S. interests and coincided with the final days of the trials of men accused in the Bali bombing last October, which killed 202 people.

As a result of the bombing last week, tour operator Intrepid Travel canceled all trips to Indonesia through the end of the year.

Other tour operators, such as SITA World Travel and Asian Pacific Adventures, said there were no cancellations as of last week. “We’ll be monitoring the situation,” said Peter Sohi, SITA’s supervisor of India and the Orient.

The bombing occurred after a week of warnings by U.S. officials about the potential for a terrorist attack on U.S. soil before the end of the summer, though as of Aug. 6 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s threat level remained at Code Yellow (elevated), a medium-level threat status.

But because there was no official change in the threat level last week, unlike earlier in the summer, travel agents and tour operators said their clients have not expressed concern.

Even when the threat level was raised to orange, her clients kept traveling, said Marti Anderson, owner of Anderson Travel Service Inc. in Seattle. “It wasn’t preventing people from traveling, but they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s going to take longer at the airport.’ ”

Raising the threat level to orange would likely impact travel more than the current advisories, said Charlie McIlvain, chairman of the National Tour Association’s board of directors.

NTA legislative counsel Jim Santini questioned the logic of “gratuitous announcements” that terrorists might hide bombs in small electrical equipment, for example.

“What does that accomplish?” said Santini. “It alerts terrorists that we’re onto you, and makes travelers more reluctant to fly.”

Both the NTA and the Travel Industry Association say recent changes to international visa programs may hinder incoming travel.

Non-immigrant visa applicants must now appear in person for an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy to obtain a visa, for example. The State Department also has moved up the deadline requiring international travelers from 27 countries to hold a machine-readable passport.

The new passports will have bar-coded biographical information, allowing immigration inspectors to “swipe” the passport for immediate information on the traveler.

Originally, the change in the Visa Waiver Program would have required machine-readable passports by October 2007, but the deadline was moved to Oct. 1, 2003, which TIA contends will further deter legitimate international travel to the United States.

TIA is “not opposed to homeland security,” said spokeswoman Cathy Keefe, “but these arbitrary deadlines were imposed without room for planning, technology and necessary resources.” As a result of the increased advisories last week, two programs allowing international travelers to pass through the United States without a visa were suspended. The programs do not affect U.S. citizens or passengers from countries with visa waivers.