Bali surf school owner eagerly awaiting imminent return of foreign tourists

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BALI (REUTERS) - Surf school owner Halfia Londa is pinning all her hopes on Indonesia's plan to reopen the island of Bali to some foreign tourists from mid-October.

Halfia's business at Kuta Beach is among hundreds of tourist businesses to have been crippled by the Indonesian government's decision to suspend all international flights to and from the popular island destination from April 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The closure stripped away most of Halfia's business virtually overnight, plunging her into debt. With very little income, she was evicted from her rented house and has been relying on the generosity of friends to get by.

"Just to be able to eat, I have to borrow money," Halfia said, outside her surfboard rental shack on Kuta Beach. "We try to be economical, we eat twice a day without lunch ... we try to always cook what we can eat for at least two days."

There was some hope this week when the government announced it would reopen Bali and the neighbouring islands of Batam and Bintan on Oct 14 to travellers from 18 countries, including China, New Zealand and Japan. Previous plans to reopen the tourism hotspot have been repeatedly delayed. Visitors will be required to quarantine for five days at their own expense.

Indonesia, South-east Asia's biggest economy, has experienced one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the region. It has officially recorded more than 4 million cases and 142,000 deaths, and public health experts believe the true toll is far higher.

However, case numbers have eased significantly in recent months, to fewer than a thousand cases a day, compared with a peak of 56,000 cases a day in July.

The country exited its first recession in more than two decades in the second quarter, though economists have warned that the subsequent Covid-19 resurgence and the ensuing social restrictions likely weighed on the recovery's momentum.

Bali, where tourism accounts for more than half the economy, has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. The once thriving holiday spot has been eerily quiet for months, with hotels, restaurants and beaches shuttered and thousands of hospitality jobs gone.

Tirta Mursitama, an expert in international business at Binus University, said now was the time to seize the opportunity to innovate in Bali's hospitality and tourism sector. "We know that every business is changing, so there's a need to become innovative," he said.

Halfia has kept her board rental business open for the few local customers still around, offering two-hour rentals for 150,000 rupiah (S$14.30) - half the pre-pandemic price.

"I hope that the arrival of tourists back to the island can give us a chance to work again, live our daily lives and to revive the economic opportunities," she said.

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