Businesses have done well over the Christmas period with reports of normal numbers of foreign tourists everywhere and plenty of domestic visitors occupying the roads. In November last year, arrivals to Bali dropped dramatically after a three-day shut down of Denpasar International Airport; but it seems that arrivals and occupancies are now on the rise. A presidential visit and new bookings for 2018 demonstrate to Bali, and the entire world, that the island remains safe for a holiday despite the continued rumbling of volcanic Mount Agung. Additional positive news comes as China withdrew its travel caution, advising Bali’s biggest inbound market that the island is a safe place to visit as long as people stay away from the narrow “exclusion zone” surrounding the volcano.
Losses have reached Rp.11 trillion ($812 million) following the volcanic alert first issued on September 21, 2017 by the nation’s disaster mitigation agency. Each day the airport was closed in November meant about US$5 million in combined lost flight revenue for the 42 airlines that fly to Denpasar. Flight cancellations cost airlines significantly as they must refund passengers, pay fixed costs of aircraft and crew that are not flying, and offer “relief” flights to return stranded travellers.
In December 2017, President Joko Widodo visited the island to show the world that it’s a safe destination for Christmas and New Year holidaymakers. He tweeted photos of himself strolling barefoot along Kuta beach, which had been cleared of rubbish ahead of his visit, and posing in selfies with crowds of people.
“Bali is safe, please holiday in Bali. This afternoon Kuta beach is busy, try and see, busy, very busy,” tweeted President Jokowi.
Jokowi’s administration is desperate to lure tourists back to Bali as tourism accounts for about 70 percent of the province’s income; there are few alternative forms of income for islanders. It also accounts for more than half of all foreign visitors to Indonesia. Bali is the only Hindu-majority island in Indonesia and has long attracted artists, surfers, spring breakers, yogis, and sun seekers. In the last three months, parts of Bali have become ghost towns as Mount Agung’s threat prompted many would-be visitors to cancel their trips. Some Balinese locals say the impact of Agung has been worse than the 2002 Bali bombings, a terrorist attack that killed 200 people in Kuta. Cafés and hotels in the radius of the volcano, which is in the heart of northwestern Bali and whose slopes include the holy Pura Besakih Temple complex, have been empty for weeks.
The last volcanic eruption occurred in 1963 and killed about 1,100 people. This year, the volcano has been taking its time, expelling smoke and rumbling steadily. Indonesian disaster officials had evacuated thousands of Balinese villagers but then made most of them move back to their homes. Due to the extended timeline of the eruption and the massive resources dedicated to Bali, observers expect disaster management to go smoothly once Agung finally blows.
The volcano chaos may not have any major implications for the Indonesian economy as a whole. Bali only accounts for 1.5 percent of the country’s total gross domestic product. Still, President Joko Widodo wants tourism to account for 8 percent of the Indonesian economy by the end of 2019, up from 4 percent last year. So the smoother the recovery goes, the sooner tourists will come back to the “Island of the Gods.”