Trade Fields Bali Fallout

Agents, operators rush to accommodate travelers in wake of attacks

By: David Peterkofsky

Though they are on the other side of the world from Bali, U.S. travel agents and tour operators who specialize in the Indonesian destination are feeling the fallout from the island’s Oct. 12 terrorist attack.

Like other retailers with clients in Bali at the time of the deadly nightclub bombing, Diane Embree, an agent at Michael’s Travel Centre in Westlake Village, Calif., spent the better part of that first weekend hastily making departure arrangements for her clients, none of whom were injured in the blasts.

Since then, she’s been working nonstop to reaccommodate her Bali-bound clients already in Asia. They include a group of 50 who were headed to the island from Singapore at the time of the attack. Embree arranged for the group to stay on in Singapore instead. She did the same for a couple headed to Bali from Thailand. Ironically, the attack comes at a time when her Bali business has been surprisingly strong.

“This year has been very good until this point,” said Embree, who launched the agency’s Bali Barong Tours division several years ago. “I have people there almost every day.”

As for clients set to travel to Bali in the next few months, she is alerting them to a newly issued State Department warning against travel to Indonesia, but she stressed that the decision to travel is entirely theirs.

“We have a lot of reservations on the books well into next year, but it remains to be seen what will happen,” Embree said. “They’re taking a wait-and-see approach.”

Stephen Abelsohn of Rogue Travel in Ashland, Ore., had one client change plans from Bali to Thailand soon after the attack, but four other Bali bookings remain in place through the end of the year.

Two other bookings one just for Bali and a circle-the-Pacific itinerary that includes Bali remained up in the air at press time. Abelsohn said he understands his clients’ concerns, but he added that he wouldn’t avoid Bali himself, given what’s happened.

“Bali has been a very safe place, traditionally,” he said. “The people who live there are Hindus, not Muslims, and I don’t say that judgmentally. With the Iraq situation and the Muslim fundamentalists [in Indonesia], people must make up their own minds. Personally, if I was traveling, I’d get on the plane.”

The Bali attack did, however, lead Abelsohn to cancel a 13-day group tour to Bali in November a trip that had already suffered from sluggish demand.

A Financial Silver Lining?

Rusty Staff, president of Asia Transpacific Journeys, noted that, within days of the blasts, two of his company’s six upcoming Bali bookings canceled, with the operator’s travel insurance covering their costs. At the same time, two other parties spoke with the company and quickly reaffirmed their desire to travel to Bali.

From a business standpoint, Staff said, the attack’s timing at the tail end of Bali’s high season could minimize the effect the blasts have on Bali’s tourism industry, which he has been told employs roughly two-thirds of the Balinese people. But apart from the obvious financial toll the attack is taking on the local economy and on his own bottom line, Staff said the bombing affected him on a personal level, as well.

“Bali has always been my personal refuge,” said Staff, who had been to the nightclub that was attacked. “I go there a couple of times a year just to revisit it and develop new programs. I’m just sad and shocked.”

Fenina Mundisugih, president of Natrabu Indo-American Travel, received several cancellations on the Monday after the bombing, he offered full refunds minus a $100 cancellation fee per booking. Half of his company’s bookings mostly honeymooners and other FITs are for Thailand and other parts of Indochina, and he said his company will shift its focus to Thailand for the fall as things settle down in Bali.

Pannir Murugesu, president of San Francisco-based Scenic World Inc., said the cancellations he received on the first workday following the attack included three honeymoon bookings. But he was amazed when several group bookings called to say they still plan to go to Bali.

“That kind of surprised me,” Murugesu said. “I expected up to 100% cancellations.”

A group of 50 out of Salt Lake City still plans to leave for Bali Oct. 31, he noted. And a San Francisco Police Department group told him it is taking a wait-and-see approach rather than canceling its Easter 2003 trip outright.

More than 50% of Scenic World’s business comes from Bali, and Murugesu said he hopes the lack of across-the-board cancellations bodes well for the destination and his business.

“That gives me hope that, in a month or so, we should get Bali off the front page,” he said. “I think we could slowly get people back to Bali. But the deals will have to be spectacular.”

Meanwhile, cruise lines are routing their ships away from Bali. Princess Cruises replaced its calls in Bali and Semarang, Java, on the Nov. 26 sailing of the Regal Princess with Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia.

Holland America Line is rerouting the Volendam on Oct. 28, adding a sea day and a port call in Broome, Australia, on Oct. 29. HAL’s Prinsendam will call in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 5 and 6 instead of Surabaya and Lombok, Indonesia, then sail to Broome.


Citing upgraded travel advisories imposed on Indonesia by Australia, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, The Pacific Asia Travel Association cancelled the 1st PATA Sustainable Tourism Conference, set for Oct. 23-26 in Banten, Western Java, near Jakarta.

A significant number of the conference’s 90 registered international delegates cancelled shortly after the attack, PATA said.

Though it cancelled the sustainable tourism confab, PATA still plans to hold the 52nd PATA Annual Conference, set for April 13-17 on Bali, said PATA President and CEO Peter de Jong.

PATA also is working with the International Air Transport Association and other partner organizations to set up a task force to help the country handle the crisis faced by Indonesia’s tourism industry.

David Peterkofsky