Should this paradise island remain out of bounds? - Australasia & Pacific - Travel - The Independent

Should this paradise island remain out of bounds?

Western governments are warning against travel to Bali, but as new cheap flights open up the island again, Simon Calder wonders if anyone will take heed

Go back to Bali? The one million inhabitants of Indonesia's tourist hub wish that we would. Since the bombing in Kuta last October, when 202 people from 21 countries died, many of the hotels have remained empty. Western governments were quick to urge their citizens to stay clear of the island rather than risk becoming a victim of another terrorist outrage. The few tourists who are going in tend to be backpackers counting on the "lightning doesn't strike twice" principle, or expats working in the region who believe that the authorities have cleaned up their act and won't countenance further atrocities.

Go back to Bali? The one million inhabitants of Indonesia's tourist hub wish that we would. Since the bombing in Kuta last October, when 202 people from 21 countries died, many of the hotels have remained empty. Western governments were quick to urge their citizens to stay clear of the island rather than risk becoming a victim of another terrorist outrage. The few tourists who are going in tend to be backpackers counting on the "lightning doesn't strike twice" principle, or expats working in the region who believe that the authorities have cleaned up their act and won't countenance further atrocities.

The first good news for six months is covered on page 11 of this section. The tourism industry will seize upon the pair of "travel immortals" awards that Bali has picked up: the world's top island, with the best resort hotel – the Amandari – to boot.

From Monday, the campaign to lure visitors back steps up a gear. The Indonesian national airline, Garuda, plans to restart services from the UK to Bali on 31 March, with a twice-a-week service from Gatwick. The flight will go via Singapore to the island's main airport, Denpasar.

Many of the passengers on board will have no wish or intention to stay more than a couple of hours in Bali. Garuda has traditionally offered a cheap way to Australasia, and initially is seeking to get people on board by selling tickets to any destination that it serves in Australia or New Zealand for a flat £400 plus tax, on any date until the end of June. One destination looks exceedingly good value: Auckland, which is being sold for a tax-inclusive £459 through Quest Travel (0870 444 5552; www.questtravel.com).

The new flights give you the chance to stop over in Bali en route to Australasia. But should you? The Foreign Office would much rather you avoided it: "We continue to receive information that indicates extremists may be planning additional attacks targeting Western interests." You also may lose insurance cover. A Foreign Office warning about a country does not automatically invalidate travel policies. But most insurers operate their own lists of no-go zones that are similar to the FO's. My annual policy, bought from Columbus Direct, is invalid for Indonesia, along with Israel, Iraq, Kuwait and Pakistan.

The degree of alarm about the danger of travelling to Bali varies from one country to the next – as does the quality of advice. Go online to search out the official warnings from four Western nations, and this is what you will find:

Australia: www.dfat.gov.au

Top line: "Defer non-essential travel to Indonesia, including Bali."

What if you go? Beware "terrorist action and civil disorder." The Australians also warn against accepting drinks or food from strangers: "Sarah, a young Melbourne woman, collapsed in a bar after drinking a cocktail that was spiked with the drug Rohypnol. She was then sexually assaulted and robbed."

And if the terrorists don't get you? Beware of gambling scams. "David, aged 23, was befriended and driven by a roundabout route to a house in Denpasar. His new 'friends' showed him how to cheat at cards and he started winning. Then the stakes were raised and suddenly he'd lost everything he'd won, and more. The Consulate has had reports of $2000-$40,000 being demanded. The gangs often threaten their victims with physical violence unless they can come up with some form of payment."

Canada: www.voyage.gc.ca

Top line: "Canadians should not travel to Indonesia, including Bali."

What if you go? "Exercise extreme caution, particularly in hotels, clubs, restaurants, bars, schools, places of worship and tourist areas frequented by foreigners."

And if the terrorists don't get you? "Motorcycle accidents are the largest cause of death among foreigners visiting Bali."

UK: www.fco.gov.uk/travel

Top line: "We advise against all non-essential travel to Indonesia."

What if you go? "There is a serious threat of more widespread harassment of British (and American) citizens, including the threat of violence, during military action in Iraq." The website of the British Embassy in Jakarta, www.britain-in-indonesia.or.id, adds: "Maintain a friendly attitude and do not respond to provocation."

And if the terrorists don't get you? "Credit-card fraud continues."

US: travel.state.gov

Top line: "The US Embassy in Jakarta has received information that indicates extremist elements may be planning additional attacks targeting US interests in Indonesia."

What if you go? "As a result of the military action in Iraq, Indonesia's frequent political demonstrations may escalate."

And if the terrorists don't get you? "A number of racially motivated incidents of harassment have been reported. Persons of African descent may be subject to arbitrary stops and questioning."

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