Monday, June 05, 2006

Yogyakarta Wounded

June 6, 2006
Tourism Suffers in Indonesian City Caught Between Quake and Volcano

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia, June 5 — In the southern part of this city a short street once alive with guest houses, restaurants, travel agencies and souvenir shops now sits quiet, with barely a soul to be found, just weeks before the onset of the tourist season.

The early morning earthquake on May 27 reduced the quaint street, Prawirotaman, to ruins. Throngs of half-awake, panicked tourists who were here that day and managed to survive relatively unharmed crawled out of rubble, wondering what to do and where to go.

The 15 guests at Hotel Prambanan, a two-story inn with about 30 rooms in the popular low-budget backpacking district, were all spared serious injury, as were the other visitors staying nearby.

"Blessed be to God that no one was hurt," said Jahyanto, 39, the manager of Hotel Prambanan, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "They were confused and scared. I just tried to help them find the fastest way out of Yogyakarta."

Yogyakarta Province is the second most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, Bali being the first. Ancient temples, palaces and a vibrant artists' community draw hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists a year to this area. Tourism accounts for about 20 percent of the province's income and is second only to agriculture as a source of revenue.

Handicraft villages in Bantul, the hardest-hit district, supplied 40 percent of the souvenirs sold throughout Indonesia. Three thousand family kilns for pottery were destroyed in the quake, and most of the villages were nearly leveled.

On Monday, an official from Indonesia's Social Affairs Ministry announced that the death toll from the quake had been revised to 5,782 from 6,234, saying that some victims had been found alive and that others had been counted twice, The Associated Press reported.

Even before the quake, tourism here was threatened by fears of an eruption at Mount Merapi, just north of Yogyakarta. A marketing campaign to show tourists that Yogyakarta, 20 miles south of the volcano, is out of Merapi's reach began several weeks ago and included organized visits to the mountain's slopes.

Two days after the program began, and the first tourists arrived at Mount Merapi, the quake struck.

Yet tourism officials are optimistic that they can recover. Most of Yogyakarta's major tourist sites were undamaged and remain open, including the city's biggest draw, the Borobudur Buddhist temple, which is more than 1,000 years old and is a Unesco World Heritage site.

"Re-establishing the tourism industry here won't be easy," said Wiendu Nuryanti, secretary general of Yogyakarta's International Center for Culture and Tourism. "But we are working together with a lot of different agencies to help the tourism industry."

Along with local and national government officials, Ms. Nuryanti has created a task force to help rehabilitate tourism in Yogyakarta.

The office of the task force, the Java Crisis Tourism Media Center, is busy with volunteers collecting data on damaged tourist areas. Regular meetings are held to discuss strategies for recovery.

Indonesia's minister of culture and tourism, Jero Wacik, has already indicated that the government will provide subsidized loans to ruined businesses, and tax incentives for struggling hotels and tourist agencies.

Condroyono, the provincial director of tourism, said strategies were being developed to use the earthquake and volcano as a way of diversifying tourism. Though Javanese culture will always be the primary reason tourists come here, he said, there are plans for tours to areas of geological significance, like massive fissures in the Gudung Kidul district, caused by the quake, or the ash-stained slopes of Mount Merapi.

"There is the potential for a kind of adventure tourism here now," he said. Indeed, in the last few weeks a large number of domestic and foreign tourists have brushed aside danger, driving to evacuated areas to take pictures in front of Merapi.

Ms. Nuryanti said her task force planned a major campaign for Mount Merapi, trying to capitalize on the recent international news coverage. The volcano is an important symbol in Javanese culture. Its spirits are believed to protect the ancient kingdom of Yogyakarta, and the designs of many of the temples are modeled after the volcano's shape.

Mr. Condroyono admitted that it would be a long time before most potential tourists saw Yogyakarta as something other than a disaster area. "This will take a long time, more than two years probably, before tourism can start growing here again," he said.

Standing alone among the remains of his former business, Mr. Jahyanto, the hotel manager, said all he needed was a little money to start again. "Maybe it's a dream," he said. "But it is the dream of everyone on this street to rebuild and reopen our businesses."

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