Bali: Gushing volcano spells disaster for Christmas tourism

People watch as Mount Agung spews ash and smoke during an eruption. Source: Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana/via Reuters

TOURISM is an essential part of Bali and Indonesia’s economy. With year-round sunshine, affordable accommodation and a welcoming culture, vacationers wanting a little slice of paradise usually flock to the island.

However, the eruption of Mount Agung last month and the imminent threat of the volcano bursting at the seams again, means many tourists are opting not to travel to the region in fear they will become stranded once their vacation ends.

“Unfortunately, due to the news, we canceled our trip,” Kaushalya, a prospective traveler to Bali told Travel Wire Asia. “We had planned everything on our own; our airlines initially said that they wouldn’t be operating until December 11, so we had no option we had to cancel.”

Christmas is usually Bali’s busiest time of year, but the volcanic disruption has left many plane seats and hotel rooms empty. Only about 25 percent of hotel rooms in Bali are being used at the moment. In comparison to this time last year, when 80 percent of the Bali’s hotel rooms were occupied, the figures are worryingly low.

“The island’s tourism industry loses about 250 billion rupiahs (US$18 million) per day as a result of the hotel room and other cancellations,” Tjok Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, chairman of Bali’s association of hotels and restaurants told The Jakarta Post.

After the eruption was first announced, Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport and the Lombok International Airport closed due to the risk of volcanic ash eroding airplane engines. This closure forced Indonesia’s flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia to cancel more than 300 flights.

During the period of closure, Garuda lost around $1 million per day and although the airports are now reopened – and many airlines are flying to the island and surrounding regions – Bali is still expecting to see a decrease in average tourism for this time of year.

Around a million people were predicted to visit the island between December and January, but with many already canceling planned trips and others choosing safer destinations, Bali is only expecting to see around half of this predicted figure.