Travel Mart marts Bali's rebound, says Kalla

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Nusa Dua, Bali

The kickoff Wednesday of the 2007 Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Travel Mart in Bali marks the return of the island as a major world tourist destination.

Bali, the country's best-known tourist destination, has struggled to recover from the aftermath of the terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005, which seriously damaged the tourism industry.

However, two years after the most recent bombings, Bali won its bid to host the PATA Travel Mart over destinations in China and India.

This year's three-day Travel Mart is believed to be the biggest ever, with 423 buyers from 49 countries participating, more than last year's event in Hong Kong, which was attended by 353 buyers. The Travel Mart also features 860 sellers from 36 countries.

Opening the event, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said that Indonesia's hosting of the Travel Mart provided an opportunity to promote the country's tourism industry after several lean years due to natural disasters, security problems and the bird-flu scare.

Kalla said that the holding of Travel Mart marked the return of foreign confidence in Bali as a major world tourist destination.

He praised Bali's natural beauty, hospitality and culture, but reminded delegates that Indonesia was about more than just Bali.

"Indonesia is not only Bali. There are a lot of other places in Indonesia, such as Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi, each of which offers diverse cultures," he said.

However, for now, all eyes are on Bali.

"My first impression arriving in Bali has been good. The security has been diligent, and I am optimistic that tourists will continue to come to Bali," PATA president and CEO Peter De Jong said.

After cutting the ribbon marking the opening of the event, the delegates quickly got down to business. The exhibition booths at the Bali International Convention Center were crowded with buyers and sellers sealing deals.

One seller, Elli Gobel, from Adventure Indonesia, said that the queue of buyers was long. "We have to do the transactions very quickly because once one buyer has sealed a transaction, other buyers are already waiting in line," he said.

"The Culture and Tourism Ministry's director general of marketing, Thamrin Bachrie, said that the PATA Travel Mart was expected to generate business worth about US$500 million, with Indonesia hoping to benefit to the tune of about $60 million.

Bachrie said that the ministry would launch "Visit Indonesia 2008" in early November, targeting 7 million arrivals in 2008. This year, the target for tourist arrivals is 6 million.

He said that currently Indonesia's brand was "Ultimate Diversity", but the ministry was currently in the process of seeking a new brand.

De Jong said that Indonesia needed to find a strong brand to promote its tourism industry.

"Indonesia needs better branding. I think the trend in the world now is for sustainable tourism -- ecotourism provides a good opportunity for the country," he said.

"Indonesia has to work harder in promoting other areas. The message has to be stronger. Indonesia is not only Bali, but the people don't have any idea of other places," he said.
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