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Bali tourism at record levels

Published: 1:27PM Thursday July 03, 2008 Source: AAP

Bali is enjoying a resurgence in tourism, thanks partly to an increasing number of Australians rediscovering the Island of the Gods.

Australians are flocking to the resort island in droves, despite the Australian government maintaining its travel advisory warning tourists against visiting Indonesia.

The US government recently lifted its travel warning for Indonesia, saying the security climate in the country no longer warrants such a warning.

Balinese tourism operators say the time has come for Australia to follow suit.

"I think it's well overdue for Australia to drop its travel warning," says Australian Nigel Mason, the owner and operator of tour operations company Bali Adventure Tours.

"...It could almost be seen as political rather than anything else I think."

The number of Australians visiting Bali has continued to grow this year, after a big jump in 2007, prompting Garuda Indonesia to add extra flights from Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney.

The airline also expects to boost capacity from Perth.

It says the number of Australians travelling to Bali rose by more than 57% in the first quarter of 2008 compared to last year.

The growth was even larger from Perth and Darwin, at 75 and 71% respectively, while numbers from Victoria/Tasmania grew by 44% and by 49% from NSW/ACT.

It builds on strong growth in 2007, with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing a 63% increase in the number of Australians holidaying in Bali last year.

During the calendar year, 206,427 Australian residents travelled to Indonesia on holiday, up from 126,595 in 2006.

But tourism to Indonesia has declined since the late 1990s.

The 2002 and 2005 terror bombings, which killed more than 230 people, including 92 Australians, had a huge impact on Bali's tourism industry.

Tourism operators such as Mason believe the industry has finally recovered.

"The tourism market to Bali has recovered but the Australian market is still recovering," Mason says. "It's almost back to what it was but not quite."

Between January and April this year, foreign tourist arrivals in Bali increased by 25.8% to 594,068, compared to a year earlier.

Australia is Bali's second biggest source of tourists, with the 78,500 Aussie visitors making up more than 13% of the island's foreign tourists in that period, slightly closing the gap on Japan on close to 20%.

Little Bali Hotel & Resort Company (LBHRC) founder Mike Parker-Brown says Bali is now receiving more Australian visitors than at any other time with hoteliers anticipating their best year ever, building on the boost in Australian business last year.

A group of Bali hotel and travel operators formed the LBHRC in November 2006, launching it with a "Where the Bali hell are you" campaign, a cheeky spin on Australia's "Where the bloody hell are you" campaign.

They also want the Australian government to amend its travel advice, particularly after the US Department of State lifted its travel warning for Indonesia, which had been in place since November 2000, in late May.