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Indonesian Tourism on Downward Trend After Java Quake

Indonesia's tourism industry, still shaky from terror bombings and the 2004 tsunami, was dealt another blow when the May 27 earthquake devastated parts of this Javanese cultural city, a prime tourist destination. //

The ancient royal capital with its cultural history, temples and vibrant arts and crafts scene is second only to Bali for visits by overseas tourists.

"We're suffering another setback," said Wulandari, a hotel receptionist in Yogyakarta. "Terrorist bomb attacks, then the rumbling Mount Merapi volcano and now the deadly earthquake."

Tourist operators said foreign visitors - scared by aftershocks still rattling buildings more than a week after the initial magnitude-6.2 earthquake that left some 5,800 people dead - were avoiding Yogyakarta and tourist spots nearby.

"I haven't seen many foreign visitors on this street since the quake," said Untung, a pedicab driver who works on the main street going through the city centre.

The temblor damaged a mall, hotels, houses of worship and souvenir shops. Other tourist sites damaged included the Trajumas pavilion at Yoygakarta Palace, the Hamengkubuwono IX museum and the Tamansari waterpark as well as several ancient temples.

At least six hotels were forced to shut down because of heavy damage from the quake, which injured more than 36,000 people.

"We need around three to six months to repair the damage," said Istijah Danunagoro, chairman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association's Yogyakarta chapter. He estimated the shuttered hotels were each losing up to 50 million rupiah ($50,000) per day.

Adding to the scare for tourists is the nearby Mount Merapi, which has been rumbling for weeks. Experts said the quake had triggered a dramatic increase in the volcano's activity.

Bagus Sudibyo, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Travel and Agencies Association, predicted that the loss to Yogyakarta's travel indus try would only be for a short period.

The number of foreign tourist arrivals in Indonesia in the first four months of this year dropped 10.7 percent to 1.2 million when compared to the same period last year, according to the Central Statistics Agency.

Bali, the gem of Indonesia's tourism industry, was just beginning to rebound after the 2002 bombings when suicide bombers struck for a second time last year, causing tourist numbers to drop again.

The earthquake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to hit the archipelago in recent years, the worst being the December 2004 tsunami, which left about 168,000 people dead or missing in Aceh, on the northern end of Sumatra.

Sukamto, a businessman who owns a camping tour outfit in the Cangkringan district in Sleman, has already felt the effects of quake.

"Last month 15 tours were cancelled because of Merapi and 30 more have gone because of the quake. But what can we do against nature?"

While Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik estimated the city had experienced a 60 percent drop in tourists, he tried to assuage fears about the prospects of the tourism industry.

"I'm sure that within the next two weeks, Yogyakarta's tourism industry will bounce back," Wacik said.

(Source: IANS)

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