Bali prays as virus hits tourism destination - GulfToday

Bali prays as virus hits tourism destination

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Balinese people gathering for a prayer event during the Galungan holiday at Jagatnata temple. AFP

Bali's Galungan festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, but a new enemy was threatening that cosmic balance this year coronavirus.


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Temples across the Island of the Gods were filled with faithful who hoped incense-and-flower offerings would get Hindu-majority Bali back on its feet after a drastic slump in Chinese visitors hammered 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.

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Balinese people gathering for a prayer event during the Galungan holiday. AFP

Around a million Chinese tourists visit the holiday island each year the second-largest group of foreign arrivals after Australians and inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

Ghost town?

In Bali, some China-focused businesses have closed and others say they're on the brink of bankruptcy.

Bali's tourism industry has suffered and recovered before, including when volcano Mount Agung erupted in 2018.

"There was a drop then but not something like this," said Robin, 29, an Indonesian interpreter who used to guide wealthy Chinese around the island.

The island's tourism agency head Putu Astawa barely two months into his new job acknowledged that losing 100,000 Chinese visitors a month has stung.

A mask-clad Balinese woman during the Galungan holiday at Jagatnata temple. AFP

But the number of visitors from Australia, Japan, North America and Europe is stable, despite unfounded reports that Bali is a ghost town, he insisted.

"I don't worry about the virus," Astawa said in an interview.

"I worry about social media hoaxes hurting the image of our tourism sector. I'm tired of fighting it."

Fatally impacted

The ghost-town image isn't fake news at Dream Island Bali Beach Club, however.

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Prayers continue during the Galungan holiday at Jagatnata temple. AFP

Chinese tourists used to roll 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 mainly Chinese visitors on boats to company-run restaurants nearby.

"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."

The hotel once employed scores of massage therapists who relied on mainland tourists, but that crucial moneymaker has dried up.

"Before coronavirus we were planning to add more massage beds," said manager Vincent Fonda in the hotel's empty Chinese food restaurant.

"At the end of the day, we're probably going to close down."

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