Volcano casts shadow over Bali tourism

Passengers gather at the Gusti Ngurah Rai International airport in Denpasar, Bali on Nov 27, 2017, after flights were cancelled due to the threat of an eruption by the Mount Agung volcano.
Passengers gather at the Gusti Ngurah Rai International airport in Denpasar, Bali on Nov 27, 2017, after flights were cancelled due to the threat of an eruption by the Mount Agung volcano. PHOTO: AFP

Hotels and businesses face losses during peak holiday season, while airport closure sparks travel chaos

As Bali's Mount Agung belched huge columns of ash yesterday, triggering travel chaos for a second straight day, an even darker cloud loomed over the holiday island's tourism sector.

Bali is bracing itself for major cancellations right at the start of the busy December-January holiday season. Nearly five million of the 11.5 million foreign visitors to Indonesia last year went to Bali.

The island's Ngurah Rai International Airport remained closed yesterday, stranding tens of thousands of travellers.

The airport is tentatively scheduled to reopen at 7am today, but airlines have been telling travellers they might have to wait until the weekend for flights home.

Indonesian Tourism Industry Association (Gipi) Bali said it was offering free accommodation to hundreds of stranded tourists at the airport.

Yesterday, 443 flights were cancelled, affecting up to 59,500 people, an airport spokesman said.

Hotels are already receiving large numbers of cancellations, said Mr Bagus Sudibya, chairman of the board of advisers at the Bali chapter of the Association of the Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies.

"Huge cancellations. It is going to hurt businesses if it continues for long," he told The Straits Times.

Airlines, too, face losses.

Transport research firm Crucial Perspective's chief executive, Ms Corrine Png, told Reuters that each day the Bali airport was closed meant about US$5 million (S$6.7 million) in combined lost flight revenue for the 42 airlines that fly there. "This comes at a bad time for the airlines as we are in peak travel season right now and the Bali route is highly lucrative," she said.

Scoot was making arrangements to transport its passengers to Surabaya in East Java, so they could fly back to Singapore from there. Singapore Airlines was giving customers the option of flying to other places in the region, instead of Bali.

Singaporean bank analyst Natalie Neo, 26, was forced to extend her stay at a hotel after a series of flight cancellations.

Some took the disruption in their stride. "What's to be annoyed about, getting stuck here?" said stranded passenger Simon Allan, whose flight to Perth was cancelled.

The local authorities have also been organising bus services to Bali ferry terminals for holiday-makers to travel to airports in Lombok and Surabaya.

Frustration at Bali's airport, the country's second-busiest, was starting to boil over, with an estimated 2,000 people attempting to get refunds and reschedule flights.

Gipi Bali head Gus Agung said the association had set aside two billion rupiah (S$200,000) to provide hotel accommodation for those stranded at the airport.

The crisis showed no signs of ending, with strong tremors felt just past 1.30pm (local time) yesterday.

"Larger eruptions can happen any time soon," said Volcanology and Disaster Mitigation Centre chief Gede Suantika. He added that the centre has detected increased activity at the mouth of the volcano, which was moving into a more dangerous phase.

With the growing threat of larger eruptions, many more residents are being evacuated from the mountain's 10km radius exclusion zone.

About 100,000 people are said to live in over 20 villages located within the exclusion zone and, thus far, about 29,023 evacuees have made it to the 217 shelters.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2017, with the headline 'Volcano casts shadow over Bali tourism'. Print Edition | Subscribe