Indonesia's tourism industry upbeat about Chinese New Year prospects despite impact of Bali's Mount Agung

People watch from an obeservation post in Bali as Mount Agung spews ash and smoke during an eruption on Dec 9, 2017.
People watch from an obeservation post in Bali as Mount Agung spews ash and smoke during an eruption on Dec 9, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia's tourism industry is optimistic about business prospects around Chinese New Year, despite the lingering impact of volcanic activity from Mount Agung in Bali.

The island, a popular destination for Chinese tourists and the country's main tourist gateway, has seen a steep decline in tourist arrivals amid volcanic activity since November.

The eruption had led the Chinese government to issue a travel warning, initially to warn Chinese tourists about the possibility of getting stranded on the island following the temporary closure of I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport. The travel warning, however, was lifted in December.

Chinese New Year will fall on Feb 16, with the government previously stating that the holiday will help restore Bali tourism, which has experienced a slowdown since the eruption.

Association of Air Ticketing Companies in Indonesia vice chairman Rudiana said the number of booked tour packages had increased up to 15 per cent this year from Chinese New Year last year. "But (tourists) seem hesitant (...) They booked but then if they are asked to place a deposit, they aren't willing to do so," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday (Jan 16).

During last year's Chinese New Year, members of the association could bring in an average of 6,000 Chinese tourists daily, he said.

The situation has caused travel agents to be in wait-and-see mode, as another eruption could further affect tourism.

In November last year, for example, Ngurah Rai airport was forced to halt operations for nearly three days due to the eruption.

The government reiterated that according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, volcanic ash that is expected to blow toward the south-east until March would not affect airports.

Rudiana added that the situation had also been affected by seemingly subdued economic conditions that had led to fewer Chinese tourists.

However, he said business players had offered promotional discounts to lure Chinese tourists.

He also said a government program through which it endowed a subsidy of Rp 100 billion (S$9.9 million) for tour packages in the first three months of the year to expedite Bali tourism recovery, was ongoing, although results had been lackluster.

"We are also trying to promote other places, such as Medan and its Toba (lake in North Sumatra). We hope there is still an increase there," he said.

The Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association's Bali chapter head, Tjokorda Artha Ardana Sukawati, said he expected the number of Chinese tourists arrivals in Bali to at least stagnant at more than 4,000 tourists daily around Chinese New Year.