- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A tropical beach with nobody on it may be the stuff of travelers' dreams, but it's a nightmare for many Asian nations after the Bali bombings stirred fears of more terrorist attacks in paradise. Tourists fled the idyllic Indonesian resort after the blasts killed nearly 200 people last
month, and many are avoiding other regional destinations that have seen troubles, including Philippine islands where foreigners were kidnapped and parts of South Asia hit by bloodshed and political tensions.
Asian countries, which consider tourism a major source of cash and jobs, say wealthy Western nations are making the situation worse by issuing advisories that scare people away from safe destinations. Over the weekend, for example, the State Department cautioned U.S. citizens about what it called the risk of terrorist actions in Southeast Asia, urging them to "remain vigilant with their personal security and to exercise caution."
"They issue advisories based on the first information they receive, not on exclusive intelligence, which is causing panic," said Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.
The tourism crisis was a focus earlier this week when leaders of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a summit, with China, Japan, South Korea, India and South Africa.
The ASEAN nations signed a new deal promoting tourism for example, by easing visa requirements and boosting air services Monday.
The leaders also made a statement attacking the travel advisories, which they say only help achieve the objectives of the terrorists.
"We call on the international community to avoid indiscriminately advising their citizens to refrain from visiting or otherwise dealing with our countries, in the absence of established evidence to substantiate rumors of possible terrorist attacks, as such measures could only help achieve the objectives of the terrorist," the declaration said.
For now, many are just worried about how much business they will lose and how long it will take to bounce back.
"We have huge losses every day," said Roberto S. Jotikasthira, first vice president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents. Dozens of European tour groups have been canceling visits, including some big ones like planned tours by about 400 people from Italy and 1,200 from Portugal, he said.
"It's a big snowball effect," said John Koldowski, managing director of strategic intelligence at the Pacific Asia Travel Association. He called it "unfair to brand a whole country or a whole region" with travel advisories that can needlessly frighten tourists.
"Pick any country in the world and I'm sure I can find you a dark alley that will get you into trouble," he said.
Although the association is holding its annual meeting next year in Bali, which it hopes will lend the resort island some support, it had to cancel a sustainable-tourism conference in western Java, Indonesia, just days after the Bali bombings.
"We were all set to proceed with that, but a lot of our speakers, from the U.S., the [United Kingdom] and Australia were advised not to go," Mr. Koldowski said.
The U.S. travel advisory, similar to warnings issued by nations in Europe as well as Japan and Australia, noted "the potential for terrorist actions against U.S. citizens abroad, specifically in the Southeast Asia region."
Many in the industry are furiously noting that no such sweeping blanket warnings get put out when terrorists have struck elsewhere for example when the IRA bombed targets in Britain and Ireland.
"It's a bloody joke," said Luzi A. Matzig, whose Asian Trails travel agency in Bangkok promotes visits to remote areas of Southeast Asia. "You have no travel advisories for Spain, where Basque terrorists stage attacks, but you have them for Laos, Burma and Thailand, which are among the safest places in the world for tourists."
Industry experts predict travel will recover, and the host of the ASEAN summit, Cambodia, is proof that it can happen. Cambodia is still recovering from years of war and genocide, and cleaning up all of its notorious minefields will take decades.
But Cambodia has been enjoying increases in tourism of 25 percent each of the last three years, according to Deputy Minister of Tourism Thong Khon, who expects the trend to continue.
The Bali crisis and other Asian troubles, such as tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan, might even prompt travelers to come to Cambodia instead, he said.
"We don't want to see our friends suffer destruction so we can benefit, no," he said. "But because of the security in Bali, some travelers might turn to places with adequate security like Cambodia."

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