Australian leader seeks help for tourists stranded in Bali

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, file photo, a flight information board shows cancelled flights due to smoke from Mount Agung at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia. Australia’s prime minister says he is discussing with his government how to help thousands of Australian holidaymakers stranded by volcanic smoke on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. (AP Photo/Ketut Nataan, File)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia's prime minister said Wednesday that he was discussing with his government how to help thousands of Australians stranded by volcanic smoke on the popular Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Australians account for more than one in four of the international tourists who flock to Bali, so ash spewing from Mount Agung that has grounded local aircraft has also created chaos at Australian airports.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged Australians who cannot leave Bali's airport to contact the local Australian Consulate.

"I'll be talking to the foreign minister (Julie Bishop) about how we can best support Australians who are caught up in Bali right now," Turnbull told reporters. "We provide extensive support to Australians who are in trouble of one kind or another overseas and they should be in touch with the consulate in Bali."

Australian travelers heading to and from Bali on Wednesday faced at least another day of disruption as airlines continued to monitor the ash cloud from the volcano. More than 440 flights to and from Bali have been canceled as a result of the ash cloud, leaving nearly 60,000 travelers from across the globe stranded on the island.

Jayson Westbury, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, predicted that Australian tourists would return to Bali in large numbers as soon as the smoke cleared.

Australians largely abandoned Bali for almost two years after bomb blasts in 2002 killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

But Westbury said Australian travelers treat natural disasters differently than terrorist acts.

"Natural disasters that have occurred around the world have never really put Australians off returning to those destinations, and there have been plenty of them," Westbury said.

"We tend to be a traveling people that like to go back and support as best and as fast we can," he added, citing as a recent example disastrous flooding in Fiji.

But Australians might make alternative vacation plans over the looming Christmas-New Year period, Westbury said.

Bali is among Australians' top three vacation destinations because it's relatively cheap and relaxed, Westbury said.

Yohei Okamoto, a lecturer in tourism at Australia's Murdoch University, agreed that Australians would see a volcanic eruption differently than a terrorist attack and would likely return to Bali soon.

"We have a long history of Bali as a favorite tourist destination," Okamoto said.

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