After eruption, Indonesia turns to disaster tourism

Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:19pm EST
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By Olivia Rondonuwu

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - Indonesia appeals to visitors with tropical beaches, beautiful mountains, spectacular reefs and exotic cultures.

But now the country, which lies along the Pacific Rim of Fire and suffers from frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions, is courting tourists interested in viewing its harsher face.

Near the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta, withered vegetation, buried villages, rivers choked with volcanic ash and stone, and refugee camps are the painful legacy of the recent Mount Merapi eruptions that killed over 350 people and made nearly 400,000 refugees.

Yet local travel agencies are adding this as the latest feature of visits to Yogyakarta, seat of an ancient kingdom.

"In the new volcano tour package, we'll take customers to explore the closest village to the peak and see how bad the devastation is," said Edwin Ismedi Hinma of the local tour agencies association.

"Then we'll take them to a river to watch cold lahar flood past," he added, referring to volcanic debris flows.

Tourism is big money in Indonesia, making up 3 percent of its gross domestic product, but the disasters prevent strong growth.

The latest eruption closed the local airport for two weeks due to volcanic ashfall and even forced cancellation of international flights to Indonesia's capital of Jakarta.   Continued...