Simon Calder: Soft target that will struggle to recover second time around

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The Independent Travel

The bomb attacks were compared to those in London in July, prompting the similar message that prospective tourists should not be deterred by an isolated outrage perpetrated by fanatics.

The holidaymaker choosing which of the world's beautiful tropical islands to escape the coming winter is unlikely to accept this analysis. The London bombers - as with their counterparts in Madrid last year - targeted commuters, not tourists. And Saturday's carnage was merely the latest tragic attack on foreigners in Indonesia.

No terrorist target is softer than the tourist. Almost by definition, holidaymakers are relaxed and off their guard. They congregate in clearly identified locations, presenting easy prey for those intent on murder and mayhem. Killing or maiming foreigners is guaranteed to generate a global audience, to deter future visitors and thereby to sabotage a fragile economy.

As the authorities in Jakarta sought to limit the damage, travel companies were organising the evacuation of customers and dealing with those booked to travel to Bali in the near future. Qantas laid on an emergency flight from Sydney to bring home tourists. All passengers booked to travel anywhere in Indonesia on the Australian airline are entitled to cancel their trips without penalty.

The leading British long-haul holiday company, Kuoni, had 160 clients on the island at the time of the blasts. All are safe, and are being offered the option to fly home early with a refund for unused accommodation. Customers of the firm booked to depart imminently for Bali are being contacted with the offer of cancelling without penalty.

When travel companies open for business today, they could be besieged by confused and worried customers. After the attacks in Bali three years ago, the Foreign Office warned against travel anywhere in Indonesia. Such a pronouncement carries considerable weight. UK tour operators are duty-bound to repatriate clients, and to cancel future trips until a ban is lifted (which, in the case of Indonesia, was nearly two years later). In addition, most travel insurance policies suspend cover for areas placed off-limits by the Foreign Office.

Some in the travel industry are perplexed that the Government has stopped short of reintroducing a travel ban for Indonesia. Airlines and tour operators will today decide their policies for travellers who have already bought trips to Bali. Even though they have no legal obligation to allow free cancellations or changes, past evidence suggests that most are likely to be generous to customers booked to travel in the short term.

Hoteliers, restaurateurs and taxi drivers in Bali are resigned to empty resorts in the short term. Past experience suggests bargain-hunting backpackers will remain, but the high-spending clientele seeking indulgence in world-class spas will look elsewhere. The timing coincides with what should be peak selling season for Europeans seeking winter warmth.