for National Geographic News
For years, Bali was a peaceful enclave in conflict-ridden Indonesia. The popular tourist destination attracted 1.5 million visitors just last year. But on October 12, the peace was shattered when a car bomb exploded outside a tourist-packed nightclub, killing over 180 people. Now, few visitors are likely to return anytime soon. Here Traveler Editor Keith Bellows talks about the future of Bali's travel industry, alternative island getaways, and more.
Could this attack have happened anywhere?
Definitely. Bali was a relatively vulnerable place to attack. It's more difficult now, for instance, to attack the United States. But Bali was an easy in, and there are other places in the world that might be, too. The world is a dangerous place, and you can't predict where things might happen. But we have to live our lives. I'm no fortuneteller but we probably won't see another attack on Bali. The perverse thing is, if you are somebody who plays the travel game like some people play the stock marketwhen the stock goes down, you buy low and sell highyou'd go to Bali now. The deals are there; you could probably stay in a five-star resort for virtually nothing.
What do you think of the worldwide travel warning, recently issued by the U.S. State Department?
It's a bit tricky. Concern is raised when the State Department issues a warning, but a warning alone isn't a sufficient reason to avoid a place. In recent years, the State Department has issued travel warnings for virtually every country in the world. So, you have to ask yourself what these warnings actually mean. If there's any question about the safety of a place you want to visit, do your own investigation. Make contact with people living there and go online to read local news coverage to gain insight into what's going on.
What is the prognosis for Bali's tourism industry?
There will be a huge downturn in visitors in the short termespecially because Bali's tourism industry depends on honeymooners. But visitors will return. Look at New York or Washington, for instance, post 9/11. There was a huge downturn at first, but their tourist numbers are now pretty much back to normal. I do worry about a conflict between Balis people and the rest of Indonesia. Indonesia is predominately Muslim, with the exception of Bali, which is 70 percent Hindu. Bali has been relatively peaceful, and the locals are upset that this has occurred. Muslim extremists are thought to be responsible for the attack, so you wonder if a religious conflict could erupt between the two groups.
What should you do if you've already booked a trip to Bali? And should you consider travel insurance now more than ever in the event of another disaster like this one?
Many airlines and hotels will refund your tickets or rebook your trip for another time. It's not in their best interest to be difficult. There will always be conflict in the world, and it is a good idea to look seriously into some kind of plan, like trip cancellation insurance. There are lots of products out there. Log onto Google.com and type in "travel insurance." You'll find a whole array of options.
Where else can you go for a similar island getaway, if you don't feel comfortable visiting Bali right now?
Bali is a signature place, and I wouldn't discount it. But you have to look at how tenacious and adventurous a traveler you are. If you're spooked, pick another island. I would go to the Seychelles, a classic destination that's very similar to Bali in many respects, though much less developed. Or you could go to Tahiti, which is a terrific destination.
Is it a good idea to stay away from more remote places and stick closer to home?
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