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Devastating blow to Bali tourism

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LONDON, England -- The tourist island paradise of Bali could take years to recover from the devastating blow to its image caused by the weekend bomb attacks, travel agents predicted.

Britain's Foreign Office advised Britons not to travel to Bali and thousands of Europeans as well as Australians and Americans were expected to cancel their bookings, with many on the island leaving straight away.

Drawing on the experience of a militant Muslim terror attack in Egypt's Nile resort of Luxor five years ago, British agents said tour operators would scale down operations in Bali in the immediate future and the full impact of the attacks could last much longer.

"It will take a couple of years to get back to normal," Keith Betton, spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), told Reuters.

Bali, one of the world's most popular destinations, attracts everyone from jet-setters to student backpackers, especially from Australia. But its reputation as a safe haven has been shattered by the weekend blasts. (Bali's nightmare)

"What I've heard from one or two people is October 12 is the new September 11," said Simon Calder, travel writer on London's Independent newspaper.

"People are thinking if tourists are targets for terrorists in places like Bali, then where in the world is safe? The short answer is these days nobody can be sure," Calder told Sky News.

European tour operators said it was too early to tell what long-term effect the bombings would have.

"Some travellers will naturally go out and cancel their travels to Bali on Monday," said Robin Zimmermann, spokesman for Europe's biggest travel group TUI of Germany. "But... there is a process of getting back to normal after a certain time."

Zimmerman said TUI had decided not to send any customers to Bali for a week as a precautionary measure.

"We are breaking the contract with our clients," Zimmermann said. "We are doing this as a measure until the foreign ministry issues guidance."

Markus Ruediger, spokesman for Thomas Cook, the European travel giant, said measuring the impact on travel to Bali would take more time.

Ruediger said his company had so far not received a flood of requests from its approximately 500 customers on Bali who wanted to return home.

"At the moment it's too early to say who will be flown out," he said. "We're in contact with the foreign affairs ministry and we'll decide about further flights to Bali in the next 24 to 36 hours."

Switzerland's biggest tour operator, Kuoni, said it was not taking Bali off its list of destinations, pending further information.

Kuoni would allow its customers to cancel trips to Bali without penalty while the 81 of its customers on the island could return early without additional costs, a spokesman said.

British tour operators said they were heeding Foreign Office advice against travelling to Bali. (Full story)

"They will certainly be downscaling their operations in Bali, because clearly for a while it's going to suffer from an image problem," ABTA's Betton told Reuters.

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