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Bali faces uncertain future without tourists

Bali faces uncertain future without tourists
April 3, 2020

While having initially proven resilient to the global decline in tourism caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the Indonesian island of Bali is now facing months without visitors.

Beaches, streets, resorts and hotels across the popular holiday island are now empty with the Indonesian Government having last week suspended its visa-on-arrival policy for a month to curb the spread of Coronavirus across the nation.

As of this week, it has announced all foreign nationals except for diplomats, humanitarian workers and those with residency permits will be barred from entering the country for 14 days.

The result is that Indonesia’s tourism industry is in effectively shut down and that Bali, where more than three-quarters of the economy is linked to tourism, is facing an uncertain future.

Commenting on the prospects for the 4.2 million people who live on the island, Ross Taylor, President of the Indonesia Institute, a foreign policy think-tank at Melbourne's Monash University, told Al Jazeera, “from our research, we know about 80% of Bali's GDP is based on tourism.

“Everyone (in Bali) has placed all their eggs in the tourism basket (so) the result of taking that away would be catastrophic.

"In most Western countries, households have some financial buffer. But in Bali, most people earn only a couple of hundreds of dollars a month. They live from day-to-day or month-to-month. If they lose their jobs, they will have nothing to fall back on."

Hasrat Aceh, one of thousands of hospitality workers on the island who have already been placed on holidays or unpaid leave, put the situation more starkly, commenting "without tourists, Bali will die."

When the disease first surfaced in China in January, the number of foreigners visiting Bali actually increased 3% compared with the same month the year before, according to data from Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Foreign arrivals dropped 20% in February, following a ban on tourists who had been in China in the past 14 days.

But with no cases of COVID-19 reported at that time in Indonesia, 400,000 tourists from Australia, Russia, South Korea, India, Japan and more than 100 other countries headed to Bali. In the first 12 days of March, a further 114,000 visitors arrived.

However, with nations closing their borders, foreign visitors have fled the island.

As a result, according to Ariyo Irhamna, an economist specialising in poverty at the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance in Jakarta, “many people will lose their jobs because there will be no tourists. But it will impact the poorest people most.

"What we're hearing is that the central government in Jakarta may not be able to help them. They are concentrating on incentives for investors and the business community."

The Balinese have experienced a number of lows in the current millennium: the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005, the Global Financial Crisis in 2009 and the Mount Agung volcanic eruption in 2017. On every occasion, tourists left, only to return in even larger numbers.

While the island has a history of recovery, Taylor fears the impact of Coronavirus will be different, noting “this is not a normal problem. No one knows how bad things will get in Bali or how long it will last, or how it will affect the countries tourists come from. If you can't even see the problem clearly, how can you find a way out?"

Images: Deserted at sunset, Bali's famous Kuta Beach (top) and the island's Pura Tanah Temple when tourists were plentiful (below).

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