Bali is the most popular tourist destination among foreigners in Indonesia. Thousands of people on this tropical island are dependent on travel and hospitality, which means that the pain runs far and wide. It’s hard to imagine anyone in Bali without a smile on their face, but smiles are few and far between today.
Tourist attractions are usually bustling areas, but no more. Restaurants are closed, beaches are empty and shops are struggling. As Indonesia struggles to contain COVID-19, this scene is all too common across Bali, Lombok and beyond.
Gede Sidharta Putra’s resort is near the tranquil area of Sanur. The property overlooks white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. Usually this would be his busiest time of the year with tourists from Australia, Europe and China spending their spring vacation on the island. However, this year it’s a different story.
“At our hotel, usually around this time our occupancy is quite high, at least 75 percent. Our main market comes from Australia and Europe. Now, Australia have closed their borders and a couple of European markets also got hit such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. So, basically all our market now is closed including the China market as well,” said Gede.
Indonesia’s Tourism Ministry estimates that at least 150,000 people will be laid off this year due to the huge impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector. According to the country’s Tourism Minister, Wishnutama Kusubandio, Indonesia’s tourism industry will not fully recover until 2021 or beyond.
“The hotel is closed right now, it’s totally closed. We have to deal with the layoffs of the employees. In our hotel more than 1,000 employees are required to stay home. We try to rotate them, we use only 25 to 30 percent of employees at a time but mostly there is no revenue at all for them,” said Gede.
Earlier this year, the Indonesian government proceeded to ban travel from the Chinese mainland to halt the spread of COVID-19 locally. That move came with huge consequences. Chinese tourists remain on the top spot of arrivals into Bali. Research shows an average of 1,000,000 of them visit the island every year, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.
“We were still seeing good numbers from January 25 until March 15 when they closed flights completely from China,” said Agung Partha Adnyana from Bali’s Tourism Board. “We only started seeing an 18-20 percent decrease after March 15 from the China market. After the lockdown from European countries, we really started to suffer. In addition to hotels and resorts, small businesses, drivers, tour guides, everybody in the tourism ecosystem is having this problem.”
President Joko Widodo has enforced strict large-scale social restrictions in most parts of Indonesia. Although Bali has not imposed any form of lockdown, many people are choosing to stay home as a personal initiative to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Agung says running a business in this uncertain climate is next to impossible and in an island that relies heavily on tourism, many locals fear the worst is yet to come.
Bali is one of the most famous islands in the world. It offers everything from luxurious spas to the simple beach life. You can spend the morning on the beach and the afternoon near the top of a cloud-covered and chilly volcano.