“We’re praying for good things in this universe and that the virus is gone soon so Bali’s tourism can bounch back”. These words were what priest Made Lenggang Buwana said the past February Galungan celebration in the capital Denpasar, Bali.
Bali’s Galungan festival supposedly celebrates the triumph of good over evil, but a new enemy is threatening that cosmic balance this year, corona virus.
Concerns about the rapidly spreading virus prompted Indonesia to shut down all flights to and from China that month which brought body blow to scores of Bali’s business including restaurants, hotels, travel agents, wedding planners and Mandarin-speakers interpreters. Around one million Chinese tourists visit the holiday island every year, second-largest group of foreign arrivals after Australians and inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.
Thousands traveled there from the mainland for Chinese New Year’s holiday just as the virus outbreak just beginning to snowball, prompting the lockdown of China’s Hubei province, where the virus was first detected.
In other words, Chinese tourists account for about one in six of the Island’s visitors and tourism is the main part of Bali’s economy. Since Indonesia banned all incoming flights from China, their absence has hit Bali very hard. And for sure, it is not just affecting tourists from China but other Asian tourists as well.
More than 230 Indonesian citizens were evacuated from China and quarantined on Natuna Island for two weeks, but have reportedly all have tested negative for the virus and were released on Sunday.
But there have been concerns about the Chinese man who was on holiday in Bali last month, from 22 to 28 January, and later tested positive for corona virus on his return to China. Bali Tourist officials say they have checked the hotel where he stayed and no one appears to have been affected. The World Health Organization says the general incubation period for the disease is 14 days.
Bali, have been cancelled this month, preventing the arrival of at least 5,200 visitors, the managing director of the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation says.
The massive decline in tourism in Bali in recent months as the main reason behind the slowdown, which not only saw a huge drop in foreign tourist arrivals but also various cancellations of national and international events that commonly take place on the island.
But then,Bali has been through a lot. Let say the volcano [Mount Agung, which spewed ash in a minor eruption in 2019 ], and way before that the two awfully bombings and so on. To some people, it is an ongoing moments that people of Bali have to accept and face. And most likely is Tara Louise, a 31-year-old British nail technician on holiday in Bali, says she is “not worried right now, as I think you should live in the moment, plus it is spreading worldwide currently so it’s unsafe anywhere”.
The types of businesses that are still able to operate normally are in the processing and farming industries. According to the latest data from Bali’s Manpower Agency, nearly 70,000 formal workers in Bali have been furloughed and more than 2,400 were laid off.
With an average monthly income of only $289 and few social-welfare benefits available in Bali, the impact on many of these newly unemployed and their families has been nothing less than devastating. Many don’t have money to buy food.
“I really need a job, any kind of job, such as cleaning houses or gardening. I will do anything. My family are starving,” reads one of hundreds of similar posts on Facebook pages for expats in Bali.
Some of the estimated 3000 Australians remaining in Bali, including chefs and restaurateurs, are answering those calls by turning their venues into free food banks – frontline charities that are feeding thousands every day.
Storo, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, used to work as a driver for a mobile billboard company. But when the pandemic struck in March, he lost his job. A week later Storo was evicted from his apartment. His old boss let him sleep in the company garage but he has no money for food.
“I found a post on Facebook about a place called Crisis Bali Kitchen that was offering free food. They fed me and gave me more food for my friends sleeping in the garage,” he says.
“You should have seen the smiles on their faces when I returned with all this food.”
Crisis Bali Kitchen is the brainchild of Brad Downes of Tropicana Churros Cafe in Seminyak.
“We sell cheap coffee and churros from a repurposed shipping container – nothing fancy,” says Mr Downes, an Australian who has lived in Bali for 15 years.
“With all the tourists gone, we didn’t want to lay off our staff. So we came up with the idea that we would stay open and use whatever little profit we could make to prepare lunch packs for people who lost their jobs in the studio next door. I assumed we’d make about $50 a day – enough to feed about 60 people.
Within a week, the Crisis Bali Kitchen was feeding 600 people a day. To help meet demand, Mr Downes is soliciting donations on Facebook.“It’s been heart-wrenching to see grown men crying when we give them food for their kids,” he says.
About half the volunteers at Crisis Bali Kitchen are foreigners. The rest are Indonesian, people like Storo who now spends his days delivering lunch parcels.
Then there’s Niluh, a barista at Tropicana Churros Cafe who volunteers in the crisis kitchen every day before taking on the night shift at the cafe next door.
Ten minutes drive away, in the neighborhood of Canggu, Warung Una, a humble Indonesian restaurant, is helping feed migrant workers stranded in Bali.
“Many construction workers from Java are stuck here. They’ve lost their jobs but can’t go back home because of travel restriction or they have no money,” says Warung Una’s owner Wulan Mei Lina, who also hails from Java.
In Seminyak, Australian restaurateur Josh Herdman had to close Sea Circus, a famous cafe with colourful murals that has been trading since 2010. But he refuses to heed the Australian government’s counsel to go home. “This is my home. I love these people,” he says. “If the ship is going down, I feel I should go with it.” Mr Herdman and his Balinese staff are working double-time to steady that ship.
It has been more than 5 months since the corona virus outbreak around the world and for sure Bali. A resort island which has become popular with backpackers, was always seen as a fertile ground for the coronavirus as millions of foreign tourists flock to its beaches. And all over other places in Bali. But it is today being touted as a model by Indonesian authorities in tackling the pandemic.
The success in curbing the virus has come with the help of about 1,500 traditional village committees with considerable sway over the majority Hindu residents, according to Gov. Wayan Koster.
“A lot of people were previously very worried that Bali would be badly hit by COVID-19 as it’s the largest tourist destination in Indonesia,” Koster said in a phone interview. “But so far, the facts show a totally different picture.”
Officials tapped the influential village committees and Hindu beliefs to ensure residents stayed at home and no outside visitors were permitted to avoid wider infections after a British tourist with COVID-19 was the first in Bali to succumb to the virus in early March. People were also asked to perform certain Hindu rituals for protection, which mandated them to obey local leaders
“The villages have a very strong influence on the community. Whatever the elders in the villages said, people will abide,” said Ngurah Wijaya, adviser to the Bali Tourism Board. “This has enabled the government to impose its policies down to the community level effectively.”
Bali’s triumph on the virus front is not limited to suppressing new cases or limiting loss of lives. The recovery rate from COVID-19 in the island is more than 66 percent, compared with national average of 22 percent. Three labs in the island can now test almost 500 specimens a day, as opposed to sending samples to cities outside the province initially. That allows authorities to speed up contact tracing and isolation.
But the revival of its tourism industry to the pre-pandemic period is far from assured. A decision on protocols to be followed in re-opening the business will be decided in consultation with elected local leaders and community and religious heads. The island is home to hotels operated by industry leaders such as Marriott International Inc., Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc.
Bali, famous for its beaches, scenic terraced rice paddy fields and temples, saw foreign tourist arrivals slump 22 percent to 1.04 million in the first quarter from a year ago, according to official data. The island received a record 6.2 million foreign tourists last year.
Indeed this corona pandemic is a very devastating situation for the world including the whole Island of Bali, but we should not give up high hopes and faith that every obstacles in life were meant to make the humankind tougher & stronger in many ways.
Lets pray the corona virus be gone soon and hope for a healing world & better life in the near future so that Bali will get its sparkle back.