G20 Summit Shines Spotlight on Bali’s Tourism Revival

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NUSA DUA, Indonesia — Dozens of world leaders and other dignitaries travel to Bali for the G-20 summit, highlighting the revival of the tropical island’s vital tourism sector.

Tourism is the main source of income on this idyllic “island of the gods” which is home to more than 4 million people, mostly Hindus in the predominantly Muslim archipelago.

So the pandemic hit Bali harder than most places in Indonesia.

Before the pandemic, 6.2 million foreigners arrived in Bali every year. The vibrant tourist scene faded after the first case of COVID-19 was found in Indonesia in March 2020, with restaurants and resorts closing and many workers returning to villages to try to make ends meet.

According to government data, the number of foreign tourists dropped to just 1 million in 2020, mainly in the first few months of the year, and then to several dozen in 2021. More than 92,000 people employed in tourism lost their jobs and the average occupancy rate of hotels in Bali fell below 20%.

The island’s economy shrank by 9.3% year-on-year in 2020 and again by almost 2.5% year-on-year in 2021.

“The coronavirus outbreak has hammered the local economy terribly,” said Dewa Made Indra, Regional Secretary for Bali Province. “Bali is the region with the most severe economic contraction.”

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After being closed to all visitors early in the pandemic, Bali reopened to Indonesians from other parts of the country in mid-2020. That helped, but when a spate of cases in July 2021 once again emptied the island’s normally crowded beaches and streets. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and closed all shops, bars, sit-down restaurants, tourist attractions and many other places on the island.

Deprived of their favorite food source – bananas, peanuts and other treats given to them by tourists – monkeys ransacked villagers’ homes in search of something tasty.

A month later, in August, the island reopened to domestic travelers, but only 51 foreign tourists visited in all of 2021.

Things look much better now. Shops and restaurants have reopened in places such as Nusa Dua, a resort area where the G-20 meeting is being held, and in other cities such as Sanur and Kuta, although business has been slow and many businesses and hotels are still closed or operating. scaled back .

The reopening of Bali airport to international flights and now the thousands arriving for the G-20 summit and other related events have raised hopes for a stronger turnaround, Dewa said.

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By October this year, more than 1.5 million foreign tourists and 3.1 domestic travelers had visited Bali.

Embracing a push towards more sustainable models of tourism, Bali has rolled out a digital nomad visa regime called the “second home visa”, which will come into effect in December. It’s also one of 20 destinations Airbnb recently announced it’s partnering with for remote work, including places in the Caribbean and Canary Islands.

Recovery will likely take time, even if COVID-19 is kept at bay.

Gede Wirata, who had to lay off most of the 4,000 people who worked in his hotels, restaurants, clubs and a cruise ship during the worst of the pandemic, found that when it came time to re-enlist them, many found jobs in the abroad or on other trips. companies.

The G-20 is a welcome boost. “This is an opportunity for us to rise again from the collapse,” he said.

There is a way to go.

“The situation has not yet fully recovered, but anyway, life must go on,” said Wayan Willy, who runs a tourist office in Bali with some friends. Before the pandemic, most of their customers came from abroad. Now it is mainly domestic tourists. But even those are few.

Bali has suffered a lot in the past. Sometimes the island’s majestic volcanoes come to life, sometimes they erupt or blow up ash.

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The dark cloud from the suicide bombings in Bali’s seaside resort Kuta, which killed 202 mostly foreign tourists in 2002, lingered for years, destroying tourism on the island usually known for its peace and tranquility.

Recent torrential rains have led to flooding and landslides in some areas, further increasing the burden on communities rebuilding their tourism businesses.

When the situation started to improve, Yuliani Djajanegara, who runs a company under the Bali Tangi brand that makes traditional beauty products such as massage oils, natural soaps and aromatherapy products, went back to work.

She had closed her factory in 2020 when orders from hotels, spas and salons in the US, Europe, Russia and the Maldives dried up, pushing orders for her products over 1,000 kilograms (1 tonne) to next to nothing.

So far, Djajanegara has rehired 15 of the 60 workers she was forced to lay off during the dark days of the pandemic.

She is hopeful, but careful.

“Tourism in Bali is like a sand castle,” Djajanegara said. “It’s beautiful, but it can be washed away by the waves.”

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TBEN Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed to this report.

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