Finance fishing boats

Virus turns holiday island in Indonesia into a wasteland of abandoned resorts

Chef Ilhani served Japanese food to vacationers every night, now he only earns $ 3 a day selling fried snacks on the nearly empty streets of once bustling Gili Trawangan.

The coronavirus pandemic has closed almost all resorts and restaurants in Indonesia’s Gili Islands, famous for their turquoise waters, sandy beaches and diverse marine life.

Located close to Bali, tourism and the local economy were booming, with around 1,500 foreign visitors visiting Trawangan each day.

But when authorities first imposed a nationwide lockdown on the virus in March 2020, then closed borders to international travelers, his restaurant couldn’t survive the loss of business.

Almost two years later, he says he’s struggling to support his wife and four children.

“Life is painfully difficult now. I sell fried snacks because it’s something the locals can afford,” he told AFP, adding: “In the past, all we let’s sell, there are tourists who buy it, but now as you can see the island is deserted. “

The three Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno and Air – have long relied on foreign travelers. There are some 800 hotels with 7,000 rooms, but only between 20 and 30 properties remain open, according to Lalu Kusnawan, president of the Gili Hotel Association which operates a resort in Trawangan.

Shops, bars, cafes, restaurants are all empty, some for sale, others completely abandoned. Dust and cobwebs collect on long, unused tables and chairs.

The staff who once worked there were forced to find other ways to make a living – some turned to fishing just to feed their families.

The coronavirus pandemic will cost the global tourism industry $ 2 trillion in lost revenue in 2021 – the same losses as in 2020, the UN tourism body warned last week.

International tourist arrivals this year will remain 70-75% lower than the 1.5 billion arrivals recorded in 2019 before the pandemic, according to the World Tourism Organization, adding that the sector’s recovery will be “fragile” and “slow” .

– Last breaths –

Ilhani fears the suffering could be prolonged as the Indonesian government now plans to impose tighter restrictions on viruses in anticipation of a new wave of infections.

In Gili Trawangan harbor, most of the boats – used to transfer tourists from one island to another or to reach dive sites – have been anchored for months. A little further on, a pontoon is left to rot.

The borders were officially reopened in October, but direct international flights to Bali have yet to resume as tourists face a quarantine and strict visa requirements, limiting demand.

And as fears grow about the new variant of Covid Omicron, Indonesia has extended its mandatory quarantine to ten days, dashing hopes of an imminent recovery in tourism.

Kusnawan fears that he and his fellow islanders could take no more.

“We are not only bleeding, but we have no more blood to bleed … We were already in bad shape even before the Omicron,” he added.

Abdian Saputra, who runs a boat service from Bali to the islands, said he had to sell his assets and lay off half of his staff in order to keep his business open because the pandemic meant far fewer crossings were needed.

“I rarely see new passengers since the pandemic. If we stop, businesses such as hotels will die too. We help each other to be able to survive,” he said.

“But if the situation stays that way, my business could see its last breath in January or early February of next year,” he added.

But for foreign travelers who reached Indonesia before the borders closed, or who were already living in the country, the location allowed them to explore the island paradise without being troubled by mass tourism.

Nicolas Lindback, who is originally from Norway, explained: “I will never see the island like this again, but if I have to choose, I prefer the return of tourism … because the locals are already suffering long enough.

hrl / lto