Balinese businesses suffers from last week's bombing

Last week's bombing in the famous Kuta tourist resort has not only claimed lives but has also threatened the future of many businesses on the island, on which thousands of people depend for their livelihood.

Balinese, particularly those living and running businesses in Kuta, will likely have to wait for months at the least before they can expect foreign and local tourists to return to the island. Some are even worried about keeping their business going at all.

Zainul Hakim, owner of a money changer firm, PT Dini Artha Buana, located about 500 meters from Paddy's Cafe and Sari Club, the two clubs that were destroyed in the blast, said his turnover had dropped to about Rp 10 million per day. Previously it was about Rp 40 million to Rp 50 million per day.

"This tragedy has ruined the image of this island and I don't think we can recover from it soon," Hakim said.

"Many strange things happened here when the bombs exploded at the nightclubs and I hope the government can immediately explain them. As you know, one of the bombs that exploded near the U.S. Consulate General at Renon was placed (by the perpetrators) under a tree that was quite far from the (consulate) office. If this terrorist group was intent on attacking Americans, why did they attack the nightclubs, instead of the office itself?

"But, anyway ... I don't know about what is going on here ... it is so strange ... so strange ...," Hakim said.

Hakim said that his business, which was dependent totally upon foreign people who wished to change their currency for Indonesian rupiah, would likely remain stagnant for the next six months because "Australian tourists are the main visitors here and they support my business."

"This tragedy was the first for us (the Balinese) as we had not hitherto been affected by the various issues on terrorism related to Jakarta and the U.S. It is a sensitive issue, isn't? More and more visitors have left this place, particularly Japanese tourists," Hakim told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

"Looking back to the riots here in 1999, it took a year for us to recover ... tourists are afraid of riots or other serious threats like this (the bombing)," Hakim said.

He was referring to the 1999 riots that hit Bali after Megawati Soekarnoputri, chairperson of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, failed to secure the presidency due to the political maneuvering of rival parties at the People's Consultative Assembly. Her party won the 1999 general election, but the Assembly elected Aburrahman Wahid as president instead, causing great disappointment among Megawati's supporters, who rioted in several regions, including Bali.

Aromas Cafe, which specializes in providing vegetarian meals, faces similar problems. Only a few tables were occupied by visitors, mostly foreign tourists, during the peak period on Wednesday.

"Usually, these tables are fully occupied by about more than 100 visitors per day, but since the bomb exploded at Paddy's and SC (Sari Club), we're lucky if we can get 10 visitors," an employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Post.

The fate of the cafe's employees remains unclear, as the management has decided to temporarily lay them off until the situation returns to normal.

"During the temporary layoff we will receive only half our salary, which totals around Rp 600,000 per month," said a female employee.

Across Jl. Legian, which leads to Paddy's and Sari Club, all stores and restaurants looked quiet. Pedestrians, including foreign tourists, walked along the street to visit the blast site, where they stopped briefly to view the destruction and then left, without buying any of the Balinese souvenirs on offer or stopping at any of the restaurants or cafes to have lunch or dinner.

Several stores and restaurants had decided to shut early for fear about the uncertain security situation.

A McDonald's outlet nearby has not fared better either, with only three or four tables occupied, mostly by locals.

An employee said that the management had reduced the number of employees from about 50 to only 10.

"It will be useless to hire people if no guests come here, won't it?" she said, adding that for the past three days the outlet had closed at 9 p.m. Usually it served customers until 2 a.m.

Taxi drivers are also affected by the explosion, which has reduced their income by around 50 percent. More and more tourists are abandoning the island, which means less and less income for them.

Hakim said the months from October to December used to be the peak session for tourism in Bali as thousands of foreign tourists would arrive on holiday. Hakim feared not many people would come this time.

Amid mounting pessimism over Bali's future, Peter Semone, a vice president of Bali-based Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), expressed optimism that tourism in Bali would remain stable, considering "foreign tourists have continued to visit countries suffering from uncertain security situations, such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan."

"These two countries are also PATA members. I'm still optimistic that Bali will soon regain its tourism," Peter said.

According to PATA's data, nearly 1.5 million foreign tourists from various countries come to the resort island each year. Moreover, some 1 million domestic tourists also spend their holiday here.

During the first semester of this year, PATA's data showed that Japan topped the foreign direct arrivals to Bali, with 139,780 of its citizen visiting the region. It was followed by Chinese Taipei and Australia, with 97,329 and 90,817 respectively.

The total population in Bali is 2.5 million people, or 1.2 percent of Indonesia's total population.

Data also shows that Bali's tourism accounts for 30 percent of Bali's gross domestic product, (80 percent in Badung regency, where Kuta is located) compared with 12 percent for oil, gas, copper and other raw materials.  (Kuta, Bali)

* Published by The Jakarta Post on October 19, 2002