By Steven Handoko
Denpasar, Indonesia, Dec 31 (EFE).- Low numbers of foreign tourist arrivals to the Indonesian island of Bali are holding back the pandemic recovery of the popular holiday destination, which is relying mostly on domestic tourists under the looming cloud of Omicron.
In October, the Indonesian authorities reduced Covid-19 restrictions and reopened to foreign tourists, and two months on, Bali is showing signs of economic improvement.
Its exports for October 2021 are up on October 2019, according to the National Statistics Bureau (BPS), and tourism remains the island’s main industry and its biggest moneymaker.
The recovery is not consistent across the board, however. In Canggu area, bars and clubs are full into the night, whereas further south in Kuta, shops remain shuttered.
According to the BPS, only 45 foreign tourists flew directly into the island’s international airport between January and October 2021, however it is not known how many more arrived to the island from Jakarta.
In October, some 151,000 foreign tourists arrived in Indonesia, some 1,260 fewer than in the same month of 2020.
The recovery of international tourism in Bali, which received 6.2 million foreign tourists in 2019 and 1.06 million in 2020, is still a long way off.
However, hotel occupancy in October reached 17.73 percent, compared to 9.53 percent in October 2020, and the number is expected to rise in the high season (July-August) and as Bali hosts the G20 Summit in October.
But worries over the new Covid-19 variant Omicron spreading around the world loom over the island’s recovery.
The pandemic hit the tourism industry the hardest, and has had knock-on effects. Some workers were left with no choice but to find several jobs, or return to work in their fields in their home villages.
For six years Made Darma has been a taxi driver for a ride-hailing app, but over the last three months he has also worked mornings as a chauffeur for guests of a villa, as the number of app drivers far outweigh the number of passengers.
“Because I have an obligation to pay my mortgage and car payments, I have to work overtime,” he said, adding that he makes about 50,000-100,000 rupiah a day ($3.5-$7).
“Lots of my fellow drivers returned to their hometown to start working on their farm. But even then, they cannot find sellers for their produce. So it’s only for their own consumption.”
With a sluggish international reopening, Made said domestic tourists are “very helpful for Bali because even though they are also in crisis, they still have spare funds for a vacation.”
Ten years ago, Ketut Sudiana and his wife I Luh Putri opened a food stall in Canggu. I Luh Putri handled the day-to-day operations while Ketut worked in hotel security, but when Covid struck, he was laid off. Although he has recently been rehired, he also works at the shop during the day and they still find it hard to attract customers.
“We earn less than fifty percent (than usual),” he said. “If we didn’t have this food stall, we might already be in our hometown in Klungkung (regency).”
Back in Canggu, I Gusti Ngurah Made Harta Arkana opened his house as a homestay in 2013. When the pandemic swept through, the homestay remained closed, and while this year domestic tourists started arriving, it hasn’t been at the same rate as before.
To support himself, he started cooking and selling crepes for delivery around Canggu and now Gusti is converting a room into a mini crepe shop so visitors and guests can eat on site.
Like many others, Gusti has his back-up plan.