More than half of the Balinese economy was dependent on tourism – now the country has to rethink

Bali hosted 600,000 tourists in June of last year. This year it was 32 in the same month. And what do the Balinese do with the time they have gained? They dig up gardens and have an unusual hobby.

Kuta Beach is hardly recognizable. Where in Bali Otherwise sun worshipers from all over the world cavort, masseuses offer their services and vendor sellers advertise sarongs and ice cold Bintang beer, there has been a lull since March. The famous sunsets over the Indian Ocean also take place without an audience. No excursions to the rice terraces of Tegallalang, no “temple hopping” to the facilities of Tanah Lot, Uluwatu and Besakih, no yoga retreats in Ubud – the tourism industry, which is so important for the Indonesian island, is on the ground because of the corona virus. More than half of Bali’s economy depends on it, and most Balinese work either directly or indirectly in the travel sector. No wonder: According to the local statistics office, more than six million international guests visited the island of the gods last year “,

The Vice-Governor Cok Ace calculated in early summer that Bali would lose 9.7 trillion Indonesian rupees every month as a result of the pandemic – more than 550 million euros. An enormous number for such a small island. June, July and August are usually the high season for sun, culture and party seekers from Australia, China or Europe. In direct comparison: While 600,000 foreign guests were counted in June 2019, this June there were 32.


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Terrorism, Avian Flu and Corona
Bali is used to crises. The island was attacked by terrorists in 2002 and 2005, and hundreds of holidaymakers were among the victims. The tourism sector had just recovered to some extent when the bird flu struck in 2007 – but the H5N1 virus was also unable to bring the island to its knees. At the end of 2017, volcanologists warned of a major eruption of the Gunung Agung, many canceled their planned trips for fear of the Fire Mountain. The disaster did not materialize and the tourists came back. With the corona virus, however, an opponent has struck who has had the industry in a stranglehold for months. Can she recover again?

When local tourists from the neighboring islands were allowed to arrive again for the first time at the end of July, they were received at the airport in Denpasar with great fanfare and garlands of flowers. The relief was so great that a local minister even described the day as “historic”. The figures, however, speak a different language: “The opening up to local tourism had no significant effects on hotel occupancy,” the news portal “Kompas” quoted the spokesman for the IHGMA hotel association, Made Ramia Adnyana. On the weekend of August 22nd to 23rd, just 4900 tourists from other islands would have visited Bali. A piece of cake when you consider that 130,000 hotel rooms are ready. And another cold shower followed: Plans to bring Bali from Nov. Reopening September for foreign holidaymakers had to be discarded in August. Until at least the beginning of 2021. It is better to be safe than sorry: “Bali must not fail when it comes to revitalizing tourism because it could damage Indonesia’s image in the world,” warned Bali Governor Wayan Koster.

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Bali needs new sources of income
At the same time, demands are getting louder that Bali must become more independent of tourism . That would also be an opportunity for a more sustainable new beginning. Because the boom also had a downside: mass tourism and garbage, commerce and binge drinking – apart from a few idyllic places away from the tourist trail, Bali was no longer the tranquil hippie and surfer paradise from the 1970s. For Bali, the travel ban is also a blessing, it is finally quiet, nowhere is traffic chaos.

“That’s something special,” says Alejandro Fernandez-Cruz. The Spaniard has lived in Ubud with his family for three years . In all that time he has only ever seen Bali packed with tourists. Now, however, the expats and the locals are moving closer together, says the 51-year-old. “Of course it is also sad that so many restaurants and shops are closed – but the Balinese help each other. That is part of their way of life.”

With tropical fruits to independence?
Many have turned to agriculture. For example in Tegeh Sari, a community in the capital Denpasar, where residents have transformed a 1,000 square meter former garbage dump into blooming farmland. They grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and malabar spinach here. “Now we at least no longer have to buy the vegetables on the market,” says Putu Gede Himawan Saputra, who, like his colleagues, has so far made his living from tourism. And the cultivation of the site has another advantage, especially in times of Corona: “With the fresh vegetables we can strengthen our immune system.”

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Governor Koster also pointed out the great potential of Balinese agricultural products in July – especially with a view to tropical fruits. “Salak (snake skin fruit) is already in great demand and we are also preparing a market for dragon fruit.” In general, after so many setbacks, Koster would like to place Bali’s economy on more pillars than just tourism, including the innovation sector and the manufacturing industry. Still, the pandemic has hit the Balinese hard. Even if the virus itself gives the island some respite from the masses, people suffer from job loss and financial difficulties.

More time for an unusual hobby
“We Balinese tend not to show our feelings,” says Wayan Partawan, who usually works as a yoga teacher at a well-known resort. Currently he can only give online courses. “We look happy on the outside, but behind that is sadness,” he says. Something else is striking these days. The residents are increasingly pursuing one of their great passions: flying kites. Anyone who knows Bali knows about this passion of the islanders. Kites are considered lucky charms by the Hindu Balinese, so it is perhaps no coincidence that so many are currently romping about in the sky.

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