July 10, 2005

Business is buzzing again in battered Bali

By Tomi Soetjipto

BALI, Indonesia (Reuters) - Sun-bathing topless on Bali's
famed Kuta beach, Joanna Lee seems unfazed by the sight of
giggling Indonesian tourist policemen buzzing by on a golf

"We're happy that tourism in Bali is back because our job
is more fun now," says police officer I Wayan Karna, laughing
and joking with a colleague about sun-loving travelers.

The two policemen then briefly exchange small talk with a
group of Japanese tourists on the crowded beach where hawkers
selling sunglasses, tattoos, and animal-horn cigarette holders
mingle with bikini-clad women and bare-chested wannabe surfers.

"But write this," Karna says as he continues his afternoon
patrol, "we're doing this job seriously because we're here to
protect the tourists."

As for Joanna, a shop assistant from Newcastle in
Australia, security seems her least concern on her frequent
visits to the island she loves for the beaches and the "fun

"It's quite obvious really, the beaches are great ...
people are just so friendly," said Lee, now clad in a loose
shirt with oversized rectangular sunglasses sitting on her

"Once you come here you always want to come back, no matter


Indeed, more than two years after Islamic militants bombed
packed night clubs in Kuta, -- killing 202 people, most of them
foreign tourists -- travelers are finally flocking back to the

Dubbed the "Island of Gods" for its myriad Hindu temples
and never-ending religious rituals, Bali escaped the effects of
the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami that struck many tourist
destinations in Southeast Asia.

While tourism in areas such as Sri Lanka and Phuket in
Thailand suffered major blows, Bali has enjoyed a revival. The
island lies more than a thousand miles away from Aceh, the area
of Indonesia hit hardest by the tsunami.

Overseas arrivals on the temple-studded island have
increased more than six percent in the first six months of this
year to around 700,000 from the same period last year. That
figure broke the island's all-time high set in 2001.

In May leading credit card company Visa International
reported a hefty jump in travelers' spending on the island and
described Bali as a bright spot in Asia's generally gloomy
tourist industry.

"Bali's bright future is already here now and is looking
brighter than ever," Bali tourism chief Gede Nurjaya told

"We did have initial fears of a setback after the tsunami
but as it turns out there have been no significant


Away from the hustle and bustle and neon lights of Kuta,
Bali has enjoyed an upscale makeover, with the mushrooming of
luxurious villas and high-class spas on secluded beaches and in
the misty hills.

Italian jewelry house Bulgari is to open its second resort
-- and the first outside its home country -- next year on the
cliff peninsula of Uluwatu.

Last year, the Conrad hotel group opened a resort in Nusa
Dua and COMO unveiled its $4,400-a-night boutique residence in
the island's picturesque Ayung valley.

Fancy restaurants and posh nightclubs have all emerged,
adding glamour to the once sedate scene.

"The whole thing has become a lot more sophisticated over
the last few years," says David Wilson, general manager at the
five-star Ritz-Carlton.

"We see that Bali is more (demanding of) luxury
accommodation, whether it is luxury villas or luxury hotels,"
he told Reuters.

"2005 is looking very strong ... enough that we'll be
showing a growth of 30 percent in revenue. Most of it is being
driven by the growth of the luxury segment," he said.

A high-profile case in which a young Australian woman,
Schapelle Corby, was jailed for smuggling in marijuana, brought
talk of a Bali boycott but to little effect.

A more serious hindrance to an even more rapid recovery is
the fact that some countries, such as the United States and
Australia, still warn against travel to Indonesia because of
the threat of terrorist attacks.

Security remains a top priority for authorities in Bali,
which draws most of its foreign tourists from Japan and

In a recent interview, Bali police chief I Made Pastika
said police were on alert for possible attacks because some key
players in the 2002 bombings were still at large.

But French tourist Alexander Rybosad, taking pictures of
locals performing a Hindu ritual on one of the quieter
stretches of Kuta beach, said security and fears of bombings
were not an issue for him.

"I'm not afraid. I think it's possible that it could happen
anywhere, but I hope it doesn't happen in your country again,"
said the avid surfer, who has been staying in Bali for two