Is Indonesia safe to visit in 2019?
Government launches tourism initiative to create ‘10 New Balis’
The island nation of Indonesia has set out a plan to expand its tourism industry by upgrading its infrastructure in the hope of creating “10 new Balis”.
Speaking this week, the tourism ministry’s deputy assistant for development, Sigit Wicaksono, said that “many foreign tourists still only know Bali” and neglect “other beautiful places in Indonesia”.
“Some of them do not even know that Bali is part of Indonesia,” Sigit said.
According to Voice of America (VoA), Bali accounts for around 40% of the 15.8m visitors to Indonesia overall each year.
However, the country’s president Joko Widodo is hoping to change that with the “10 new Balis” initiative.
But while the archipelago, which has over 200m inhabitants, contains plenty of stunning beaches and jungle landscape, questions linger over its safety for tourists.
Although terrorism has declined significantly since the devastating Bali bombing of a nightclub in 2002, last year concerns were reignited by an “Isis-inspired” attack on a police station, which itself followed a bombing attack on a series of churches which killed 13 people.
In addition to terrorist violence, VoA notes that some outsiders still worry about potential “cultural friction that might accompany the influx of more non-Muslim visitors”.
So how dangerous is it to visit Indonesia?
Terrorism is, predictably, the biggest fear for visitors to Indonesia. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) says that terrorists are “very likely to try to carry out attacks in Indonesia” and that “the threat from Islamist extremism remains high”.
“Terrorist groups have the capacity and intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country. Types of attacks have included suicide bombings and small-arms fire, targeting public and crowded places,” according to the FCO website.
“Beach resorts, bars and restaurants, hotels, markets, shopping malls hosting major international brand outlets, tourist attractions, places of worship, foreign embassies, ferry terminals and airports are all potential targets for extremists.”
However, while the FCO says that terrorism may occur “anywhere in the country”, of the 17 terrorist incidents that have occurred in the past decade, 13 have taken place on either Sumatra or Java, the two most populous islands in the Indonesian archipelago.
Although rarer than Islamic terrorism, attacks by separatist, political and tribal groups have also occurred elsewhere in Indonesia, The Straits Times reports.
As a result, travel to Aceh, Central Sulawesi Province, Maluku Province, Papua and West Papua is considered highly risky. Central Sulawesi and Papua are currently off-limits to US government personnel, following kidnappings of foreigners by separatists.
Bali, one of the country’s most famous tourist destinations, with numerous beach resorts, has suffered little violence since the 2002 nightclub bombing that killed 202 people, and is deemed mostly safe by the FCO.
The FCO says of Indonesia that “the overall political situation is stable, but external as well as internal developments, including the Middle East, can trigger public protests or unrest”. The UK government department advises visitors to “avoid all protests, demonstrations and political rallies as they could turn violent with little notice”.
Indonesia is notorious for its deadly geological events.
“Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur regularly, which can present a potential threat of tsunamis,” the FCO says.
Two recent volcanic eruptions have caused major problems for both Indonesians and travellers. On 11 May 2018, Mount Merapi erupted, and Indonesian authorities have set a 3km (1.9 miles) exclusion zone around the volcano, in Central Java. A 4km (2.5 miles) exclusion zone is also still in place around Mt Agung on Bali, which erupted in November and then again in early February, delaying the flights of thousands of travellers.
In addition, the FCO advises against all travel to within 7km (4.3 miles) of the crater of Mt Sinabung, in North Sumatra, as it is expected to erupt imminently, following an increase in volcanic activity.
“The capacity of the Indonesian emergency and rescue services to deal with large natural disasters is limited,” it adds.
As is the case with many developing nations, visitors to Indonesia are strongly advised to get vaccinations for certain illnesses.
The NHS recommends having vaccinations for yellow fever, cholera, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and typhoid, along with booster shots for diphtheria, hepatitis A and tetanus.
Travellers to rural areas and the eastern provinces of the country (Papua, West Papua, Maluku, North Maluku and East Nusa Tenggara) are also advised to ask their GPs about antimalarial tablets. Visitors to other provinces are at “little-to-no risk” of contracting malaria, the NHS says.
According to News.com.au, drink spiking is another potential danger in tourist resorts in Indonesia, and travellers are advised to never leave their drinks unattented.
Visitors are also advised to avoid all drugs while in the country, not only because of the high risk of poisoning but also because many drug-related offences in Indonesia are met with harsh prison sentences and even occasionally the death penalty.
Petty crime is rampant in Indonesia, particularly in its major cities, according to the US Department of State (DOS).
“Pickpocketing, theft, armed carjacking, and residential break-ins are common. Beware of your surroundings, particularly vehicles or individuals that might be following you,” says the DOS website, adding that credit card fraud also poses a growing threat and that visitors should “avoid using credit cards when possible”.
Both the British and US authorities advise travellers to take care when on the move within the country, with the DOS warning that “traffic in Indonesia is dangerous, congested, and undisciplined”. Tourists should only take taxis from reputable companies, to avoid rogue drivers who may charge exorbitant fares.
If travelling away from major cities - for instance, in Papua or West Papua - visitors should be aware that the nearest likely destination for a medical emergency is Darwin, in Australia. Travel insurance covering medical emergencies is therefore essential.