Tourist arrivals down in February

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Foreign tourist arrivals in the first two months of this year declined by nearly 15 percent compared to the same period last year amid the bird-flu scare and anti-Western demonstrations here following the controversial publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) reported Tuesday that the number of foreign tourists entering the country in January and February totaled 559,468, a 14.93 percent drop from 657,652 in the first two months period of last year.

The agency said that foreign tourist arrivals in February fell by 10.46 percent to 264,303 from the January figure. It did not give the year-on-year figure for the month of February.

The BPS also did not provide an explanation for the drop in the number of foreign visitors, but tourism experts had previously warned that anti-Western sentiment in various parts of the country would affect the tourism industry.

The government is targeting 5.5 million foreign tourist arrivals this year, compared to 6 million last year.

The efforts to achieve this target is facing a new challenge in the form of renewed friction between Indonesia and Australia following the latter's decision to grant temporary visas to Papuan asylum seekers. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Monday that relations with Australia were entering a difficult phase.

Australians make up the largest group of foreign tourists in the country's main tourist island of Bali.

The BPS said that the number of foreign tourist arrivals in Bali in February fell by 9.02 percent to 77,384 from 85,084 in January.

Reviving the tourism sector is not only important in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment, but is also crucial to helping the country's heavily-indebted flag, carrier Garuda Indonesia, which has been hard-hit by the plunge in tourist arrivals in Bali following the terrorist bombings in October of last year.
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