Published on : Wednesday, March 4, 2020
Temples across the Island of the Gods swarmed with devotees who hoped that incense-and-flower offerings would get Hindu-majority Bali back on its feet after a drastic fall in Chinese visitors battered the key tourism sector.
“We’re praying for good things in this universe and that the virus is gone soon so Bali’s tourism can bounce back,” priest Made Langgeng Buwana said during the recent February Galungan celebration in the capital Denpasar.
Concerns over the rapidly-spreading corona virus prompted Indonesia to shut down all flights to and from China last month, and this dealt a blow to scores of Bali businesses including restaurants, hotels, travel agents, wedding planners and Mandarin-speaking interpreters.
Around a million Chinese tourists visit Bali each year, marking the second-largest group of foreign arrivals after Australians, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.
In Bali, a number of China-focused businesses have closed, with others saying that they’re on the brink of bankruptcy.
“There was a drop then but not something like this,” said Robin, an Indonesian interpreter who used to guide wealthy Chinese around the island.
Jakarta has announced more than $700 million for boosting Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as its tourism sector gets affected, while Bali officials are hoping that social media influencers can help attract more visitors.
However, the number of visitors from Australia, Japan, North America and Europe is stable, in spite of unsubstantiated reports that Bali is a ghost town.
The ghost-town image isn’t all fake at Dream Island Bali Beach Club.
Chinese tourists used to drop in for wedding photos, massages in thatched huts, beachside camel rides and a $17 ‘Dream Dinner’ package with a fire-dance show.
The now-empty operation also ferried Chinese visitors majorly on boats to company-run restaurants nearby.
Those eateries are now closed, with the ferries beached. Dream Island is headed for bankruptcy with half the staff on leave, said manager Wayan Tirta.
“Now we’re trying to get local students to come here because there aren’t any tourists,” he said, plunging his hand downward to show the drop in business. We’ve been fatally impacted by the outbreak and are just trying to stay afloat,” he said.