Rebuilding Lombok after multiple earthquakes in Indonesia

Damaged buildings are seen in the village of Sugian on Indonesia's Lombok island on Aug 21, 2018, after a series of recent earthquakes. PHOTO: AFP

(NYTIMES) Aftershocks have continued to shake the Indonesian island of Lombok after it was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 90 people on Aug 5. The quake followed a 6.4-magnitude temblor on July 29, which killed 17.

The island, home to hundreds of resorts, has been under various states of emergency since late July. Residents are slowly readjusting to the new normal as they have to pick up the pieces of their lives. The damage to the island's growing tourism industry is less clear.

Tourism is an increasingly important part of Lombok's economy, and while the island doesn't get the numbers of neighbouring Bali, it has been earmarked by the government as an emerging destination.

Last year President Joko Widodo identified 10 places around Indonesia's 17,000 islands to focus on as the next Bali, among them an integrated resort development in South Lombok called Mandalika. The earthquakes may have temporary disrupted those plans.

"Travellers are panicking," John Konstantinidis, general manager of Authentic Lombok, a tour operator based in the beach area of Senggigi, wrote in an email; he has lost 50 per cent of bookings since the July 29 earthquake.

Supratman Samsi, who has run Adventure Lombok, an outfitter also based in Senggigi, said his bookings have dropped 20 per cent, even though large sections of the island were not damaged by the quakes.

"People are scared - it's the first word they write in their emails," he said.

Hotels in parts of the island have closed as owners and management assess damage. The Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort evacuated guests. While the property had no known reports of injuries to hotel guests or staff, it is not accepting bookings for now, as it assesses its structural integrity, according to a spokeswoman.

The Aruna Senggigi Resort & Convention has also closed its main building "for tests," said Indah Puritiara, the resort's marketing communications assistant manager, adding that some online travel agents have cancelled about 50 per cent of their bookings because of the quake.

The Golden Palace, a four-star property in Mataram that welcomes mainly Indonesian guests, is also closed for safety checks while the luxury resort Oberoi Lombok, on the northwest coast near the Gili islands, is closed because of damage.

Air carriers have also reported cancellations. A spokesman for Singapore Airlines Ltd., parent company of SilkAir, one of two airlines that flies to the island from outside Indonesia (the other is AirAsia), confirmed the cancellations, but declined to give exact numbers.

Yet among the gloom some travel analysts and observers see reason to be hopeful.

"The observation I have made is that one would think increasing terrorism would put a dampener on business travel, but we have found this to not be the case, business travel is increasing," said Dr Robert Quigley, a senior vice-president and regional medical director for International SOS, a medical and travel security company.

"If terrorism doesn't have an impact on travel, then I am not sure this earthquake would have an effect."

He is quick to point out that the earthquake does present real dangers. "In addition to the seismic activity, the rubble, the physical trauma, broken bones, there is lots of dust in the atmosphere and this can exacerbate underlying conditions," he said.

People in and around Lombok note that the reality on the island is more nuanced. In some sections of Lombok, business continues as if nothing happened.

At Sempiak Villas on the south coast, the rooms are full and the resort continues to receive inquiries from travellers who have left devastated areas. Erik Barreto, who is based in Singapore and a founder of Rascal Republic, which has hospitality projects around Indonesia, described the general situation in the south as stable.

"There are people in affected areas that can't get food and water," he said over the phone from neighbouring Bali. "But we have a site in the south where we are building villas and a hotel called Samara Bay and there was no physical damage."

Others are more sanguine. Steven Moloney, who owns the boutique hotel Rascals Kuta Lombok, said his property is at full occupancy.

"People in south Lombok felt the earthquake like a tremor - there was a little bit of shock, and then everything went back to normal," he said. "Some travellers who were staying in the north have now come down to Kuta. The restaurants here are full. People forget about things like this in two or three months."

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