Bali and Lombok are the best known of the holiday islands of Indonesia, and are readily accessible from Australia and Japan, their principal tourism markets. Bali is separated from Java to the west by only a narrow stretch of water, whereas Lombok to the east is more remote and less developed. Bali has a long-established reputation as a ‘tropical paradise’, where a seemingly gentle, artistic people live in harmony with their environment. However, with tourist arrivals exceeding 2 million a year in the late 1990s – compared to less than 30 000 in 1969 – it has become difficult to sustain this image. Unlike most of Indonesia, the two islands were relatively unaffected by the turmoil that followed the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98 and the troubles in East Timor. In fact, the fall in value of the rupiah against Western currencies meant that Bali became a value-for-money destination for many tourists. Lombok has benefited from Bali’s popularity, and tourism development has been rapid since the mid-1980s.
The events of ‘Black October’ 2002 dealt a severe blow to the Balinese economy, which had become over-dependent on tourism. Matters were made worse by the reaction of some Western governments to the threat of terrorism; Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for example, issued an advisory against travel to the island, which was not lifted until June 2004. In the meantime, hundreds of craft workshops and other small tourism-related businesses had closed down through lack of orders, while hotel occupancy rates slumped far below the 50 per cent needed to cover operating costs. Many Balinese were forced to return to their farming villages in the face of widespread unemployment in the tourism sector.
Australians were the main victims of the bombings, and not surprisingly the fall in demand was greatest in the inclusive tour market catering for middle income Australians. The Japanese market was more resilient; this accounts for the largest number of tourist arrivals, but with a short length of stay averaging less than a week. Young Japanese tourists find the relaxed lifestyle of Bali a welcome escape from the social conventions and conformity prevailing in their own country. The backpacking youth travel market, and what might be called ‘five star’ tourism at the other extreme, already seem to be recovering from the crisis of 2002. Domestic tourism has increased, with the encouragement of the Indonesian government.Tags: bali, holiday islands of Indonesia, lombok