There are few places in the world where hospitality, tourism and culture are as deep-rooted in the psyche than Bali.But Indonesia’s tropical holiday island is no longer the bustling tourist destination that Aussies love – coronavirus has transformed the relaxation destination and party capital into a “ghost town”.
More than 80 per cent of the island’s four million residents have relied on the tourism industry for generations, but with international borders closed and the island now resembling a shadow of its former self, locals are left struggling.
Ling Putra Jaya, a local restaurant manager, is one of them. “Bali is as dead as a door nail,” Mr Putra Jaya told 9News. “You name it, everything it closed – it’s like a desert. “Before coronavirus, Bali was just like New York with music on, people everywhere, motorbikes everywhere, people beeping horns – always busy 24/7.”
Now, the streets are lined with closed roller doors and the sound of a car or motorbike feels a distant memory.Mr Putra Jaya’s restaurant Santa Fe is normally a buzzing eatery in Seminyak, the heartbeat of Bali’s tourism industry. Forced to close its doors almost three months ago when international border restrictions were implemented, Mr Putra Jaya now has no income.
“We closed the restaurant because we couldn’t afford the cost of electricity, gas, water and staff wages since we have no customers,” Mr Putra Jaya said.”It’s not just Santa Fe, every single restaurant is closed.”
With local businesses closed, including restaurants, bars, nail salons, massage parlours and beach clubs, Mr Putra Jaya said it’s not about making money, it’s a matter of survival. “No one is making any money, people like me are just trying to survive,” he said. “This time last week I had no food, so I was really struggling. “I had no power for a couple of weeks because I can’t afford to pay the bills.”
Lucky for Mr Putra Jaya, a small group of Aussie friends were able to help him out. When Milisa Jeffrey heard about Mr Putra Jaya’s circumstances she felt “devastated” and sent $250 to help him get back on his feet. “I felt really guilty, we’re in lockdown here but at least we’ve got food. I really wanted to send him food but with no planes I couldn’t get it to him,” Ms Jeffrey said. “So, I said to Ling I’m just going to have to give you some money, because it’s the only way we can help you out.”
According to Mr Putra Jaya, locals are living off “banya” – food rations provided by the local government. “Last week we got three kilos of rice and five boxes of two-minute of noodles and half a dozen eggs,” he said. “I’ve been eating two-minute noodles for the past three months and its beginning to make me feel sick. “But like most people here, if you can’t afford it, you don’t have any other option.”
Rations are delivered once a month but only last Mr Putra Jaya two days. When food runs out, the future is uncertain until the next package arrives. It’s not only food that is of concern – as schools close, children are forced to learn from home without appropriate resources. “Here in Bali, not every single person has internet at home, only the wealthy families,” Mr Putra Jaya said. “So, the kids aren’t allowed to go to school, but can’t learn from home.”If families can’t afford to buy food, how are they going to afford to pay for data or Wi-Fi?”
Prior to border closures, international arrivals had already dropped by 95 per cent. Now, the island has had no tourists in over two months. The economic fallout is expected to be “far worse” than after the 2002 Bali bombings and Mt Agung eruptions, according to experts.
“Please come. We need you. We need you guys. Aussie people come to Bali and they love it,” Mr Putra Jaya said. “We rely on Aussie people.” Thanks to success in controlling the coronavirus outbreak, Bali could be reopened to tourists in October, the government says.
Bali has 407 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four deaths, a much lower fatality rate compared with the 23,165 cases and 1418 deaths in Indonesia overall.
More than one million Australians travel to Bali every year and locals are begging for us to return once borders open.”Why wouldn’t you go to this beautiful paradise where these people are just incredibly happy to help you with every single need that you have,” Ms Jeffrey said.
For the latest Bali news, Debate & Gossip join our Facebook Community
Post Sponsored by Bali Flow Tours: Your Safe and Sanitary Tour Guide and Airport Transfer Service
A version of this article first appeared on 9News