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Although travel warnings have been lifted, the United States continues to tell its citizens to avoid travel to Indonesia unless the trip is essential

More trouble ahead

Tourists avoid Indonesia in the wake of violence, economic crunch

July 14, 1998
Web posted at: 1:28 p.m. EDT (1328 GMT)

From CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Taman Safari looks like an African safari, but the park is one of Jakarta's tourist attractions. And now the country's current economic crisis is hitting even the animals -- Park officials say food is becoming too expensive, and without tourists, the park can't survive.

"We can continue to manage this park for, I think, the next six, seven months," said Taman's Tony Sumampau. "After that, we do not know what will happen."

Domestic airlines are badly hit. Privately owned Sempati Air was the first commercial airline to close shop. The near 80% plunge of the Indonesian currency, the rupiah, has forced companies with dollar debts and rupiah income into technical bankruptcy.

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    Flagship air carrier Garuda Indonesia says without new cash, it can only survive until January. Loss of that airline would make it much harder to get around Indonesia's 14,000 islands.

    Along with the economic crunch, the tourism industry is still reeling from the effects of widespread forest fires which hit Indonesia last year. The fires spread a blanket of smoke through many parts of southeast Asia and chased tourists away.

    Soon after, economic and political turmoil forced thousands of expatriates out of the capital. Many governments urged their citizens to evacuate and placed travel warnings. Nearly all have now been lifted, but the tourists are slow in coming back.

    Tourism was once Indonesia's third largest dollar earner, but now that has changed drastically. Complicating the problems Indonesia faces is a change of leadership. All heads of government ministries have been changed three times since February.

    The new tourism minister, Marzuki Usman, has been in office less than a month. He admits he cannot guarantee the safety of tourists.

    "No one can guarantee it," Usman said. "Even (military chief) General Wiranta (can't) say that."

    Still, he says Indonesia has much to offer -- beautiful islands at great bargain prices.

    But that may not be enough to bring tourists back. The problem is confidence, and many will wait and see how Indonesia tackles its political and economic troubles before deciding to come and see the islands for themselves.

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