Tourism in Bali still stagnant five months after blasts
Luh Putu Trisna Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post
Balinese involved in the tourist industry are increasingly worried about the imminent threat of massive layoffs due to the drastic drop in tourist arrivals on the island.
Four months after Bali was rocked by suicide bombings on Oct. 1, 2005, the tourist industry has yet to bounce back.
An average of 2,000 foreign and domestic tourists have arrived on Bali daily over the past two months, a far cry from normal times when there is an average of 4,000 tourist arrivals daily.
As a result, the hotel occupancy rate in Bali has dropped to as low as 30 percent. A number of hotels cannot even reach breakeven, let alone gain profits, thus jeopardizing the jobs of thousands of workers.
A number of cafes and restaurants in the Nusa Dua area have closed recently due to sluggish business.
A former employee of Bale Banjar restaurant in Nusa Dua, Ngurah Pinda, who had lost his job when the restaurant closed, said that he was resigned to his fate.
"We couldn't do anything because the cafe could only earn Rp 3 million (US$300) a day, while overhead costs reached Rp 15 million per day," he said.
The drop in tourist arrivals has also affected the handicraft business, threatening the future of at least 3,000 small and medium scale enterprises. Thousands of taxi drivers are also forced to park their cabs on the roadside due to the scarcity of passengers.
"There are very few passengers now. We sometimes can't even get enough money to buy gasoline," said Made Artana, a taxi driver.
Kuta and Sanur beaches are deserted, with only a few tourists passing by.
Data at the Bali Legislative Council shows that the lowest number of tourist arrivals was on Jan. 10, 2006, with 1,986 tourists, while the highest number was on Jan. 28, with 4,108 tourists. Only 2,140 tourists visited Bali on Feb. 14, despite it being Valentine's Day, while the highest number of tourists in February was on Feb. 1 at 4,087.
"Bali is not befitting from the recognition of it being 'the best island destination in the world'," said council member, Nyoman Budiarta, adding that the problem has been exacerbated by the absence of a definite calendar of events in Bali.
Beratha Ashrama from the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) acknowledged that the low tourist arrivals following the disturbances showed that tourism in Bali was very vulnerable.
"Tourism in Bali cannot remain steady amid disturbances, it is fragile, as is evident from the drop in tourist arrivals triggered by the bomb attacks and the bird flu scare."
The drop in the number of tourist arrivals throughout the country in 2005 was also acknowledged by Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik. He disclosed that only five million foreign tourists visited Indonesia in 2005 from a targeted six million.
Wacik warned that the battered tourism industry in Bali would have a severe impact on the economic and banking sectors. Of the Rp 9.7 trillion worth of loans extended to businesses in Bali, Rp 3.7 trillion went to the tourism sector.
"I'm aware that this is a very difficult year, especially when the hotel occupancy rate has dropped drastically. I have discussed the matter with the governor of Bank Indonesia and he has agreed to reschedule loan payments to 2007, on the assumption that conditions would have improved by next year," said Wacik.
According to Wacik, the measure was also taken to prevent mass layoffs in the tourism sector.
In response to the Bali Recovery Fund program, in which the central government had provided funds to revive the tourism sector in Bali, Minister Wacik acknowledged that a large portion of the funds would be allocated for promotional and security campaigns.
He added that officials from the ministry and Bali provincial administration would tour countries, such as Australia, Japan, China and European countries to promote Bali and other places in Indonesia as alternative tourist destinations, besides inviting foreign journalists to cover tourism destinations and organize a number of international events for promotional purposes.
Stakeholders in Bali's tourism sector have agreed to sit together with the central government, provincial administration, Kadin and tour operators from various provinces to discuss measures to develop sustainable tourism. The meeting will discuss measures to establish a tourist industry that could remain stable despite disturbances, such as in the case of Pattaya, Thailand, where tourism was able to recover soon after the tsunami.