Is Paradise Lost?

It's not an easy task to write about Bali this week. A combination of personal sadness, anguish and anger will certainly influence my tone, but it is important to provide readers with all kinds of travel information, the good and the bad.

21st century travelers are sophisticated and educated, and in general will not let terrorism influence or curtail their travel plans. In an era where terrorism has become an expected evil, unfortunately its untimely intrusion can negatively impact even the most serene and tranquil of vacation destinations.

While I do not want to dwell on terrorism here, it is important to note that there is a significant difference between what happened in Bali twice over the past three years and the horrific and cowardly terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 and the subway and train bombings in Madrid and London. New York, Washington DC, Madrid and London were all aimed at disrupting everyday lives of people who lived, worked or were traveling to and from these cities. The two Bali bombings were deliberately aimed at destroying the lives of tourists and the livelihoods of people who cater to tourists (and in turn, the government that supports the economic prosperity that comes from Western tourism).

So do you cancel your planned dream trip to the Indonesian island or proceed with caution? We are not in a position to advise on such matters, but can provide you with some information to help with the decision-making.

On a positive note, it is business as usual in Bali, no hotel or business closures, nor have there been any changes to flights in or out of Denpasar (although Qantas did schedule some additional flights over the past week to cope with increased demand for departures). Garuda Indonesia is waiving cancellation fees for flights until October 16, 2005 and allowing passengers to rebook flights home without penalties. The airline is however maintaining a full flight schedule to and from Bali. After the tragic 2002 bombings, visitor number to Bali actually increased after an initial drop off. Last year Bali set a new record of 1.5 million visitors. There is a certain sad irony to the fact that Bali was just getting back on its feet economically when the latest atrocities took place. The government and tourism operators of Bali are now hoping that a similar rebound effect and a regained confidence will bring even greater tourist numbers to their island, an island that is largely reliant on tourism to sustain its economy. Tourism contributes over five billion dollars to the Indonesian economy, of which Bali attracts approximately half.

Interpol helping to search for evidence on Jimbaran beach

Obviously security has been stepped up since 2002 and will no doubt be further improved in light of last week's events. All hotel compounds are patrolled by guards (often armed) and protected by security checkpoints. The government is committed to ensuring the safety of visitors and bringing any suspected terrorists to justice. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged his support to heighten security in Bali and will no doubt enact new legislation to help protect tourists while striving to prosecute the latest perpetrators.

Bali is a predominantly Hindu island, peaceful and devout. Its major industries include textile and garment manufacturing, agriculture, fishing, woodwork, silver and obviously, tourism. Its hotels and facilities are world class with six-star luxury hotels, eco-resorts, private villas for rent, indulgent spa services, sensational shopping, exceptional cuisine and an extremely favorable exchange rate against the US dollar and almost all foreign currencies. From a cultural tourism perspective, much of Bali remains an agricultural landscape, with thousands of acres of terraced rice paddies and few modern conveniences. A visitor can still experience traditional Balinese life staying in more humble accommodation, visiting traditional Hindu temples and the stunning natural attractions that abound around the island including mountains, lush jungles, waterfalls and the beauty of the ocean.

Whereas the resort area of Kuta has became famous now for all the wrong reasons, it is only one small beach area on an island of over 2,000 square miles. Kuta is the traditional budget accommodation area and the center of mainstream tourism for Bali. More adventurous travelers will undoubtedly venture further a-field to discover the multitude of other magnificent beach and inland destinations. Legian, the next area north of Kuta boasts some of the best bars, restaurants, shops and mid-range level hotels. Slightly further north is Seminyak, a favorite amongst European travelers and the location of more up-market restaurants, spas, private villas and boutique luxury hotels. A mile or so up the beach from there is Tanah Lot. Once only known for its magnificent temple and the awe-inspiring sunset views over the water, Tanah Lot is now diversifying with a collection of pristine accommodation properties and fine dining establishments.

To the south east of Kuta is the area of Nusa Dua, which is home to the majority of hotel/resort chains including Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton and Club Med. It is traditionally geared towards travelers who like to stay in and around their hotel rather than venturing around the island, and is more an area for families and children. To the south of Denpasar Airport, Jimbaran Bay (unfortunately the second location of the latest suicide bombings) is an exclusive resort area with only a small number of properties including The Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton. Candidasa, on the far eastern tip of Bali is a more remote area with less formal tourism infrastructure, but an inviting selection of guesthouses, villas and retreats. Inland tourism is centered on the spiritual city of Ubud -- where retreats, yoga centers and spas abound. Most accommodation here is high-end and is among the more expensive options on the island, catering to the luxury market.

As of today, the US Department of State is yet to update its travel warning for travel to Indonesia. The warning in effect, dated from May 2005, continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to the country, but does not specifically highlight Bali as a destination to avoid despite mentioning the 2002 tragedy (it does however mention that travel to the province of Aceh should be avoided).

By Charis Atlas Heelan for