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Terrorist Bombing Shatters Bali's Economic Hopes

The resort island, which depends heavily upon tourism, has suffered a devastating loss of business in the wake of the attack.

October 16, 2002|Ching-Ching Ni | Times Staff Writer

KUTA, Indonesia -- The road to Bali's tourist heartland ends at the scarred scene of Saturday's terrorist bombing. There, police tape and armed guards keep traffic from the site, but they are also a blockade on the path to economic prosperity.

Few places in the world depend more on tourism than Bali. It accounts for about 70% of the local economy and employs at least one in every five people.

"If no tourists come to Bali, then businesses in Bali will die," said Made Suarnata, 23, a supervisor at a beachwear store just inside the police barrier. It is steps from the Sari Club, which was leveled by a car bomb that killed nearly 200 people and injured hundreds more.

Few expected that this day of dwindling hope would ever come to Bali, known as the island of the gods.

The resort has always stood out as an oasis of serenity in a region racked by economic and political turmoil. It sparkles like a tiny jewel among a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands that make up the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Most of the island's 3 million residents are Hindu, which explains why they have been spared much of the religious and ethnic strife that has plagued the rest of Indonesia.

Economically, Bali has thrived in a country still struggling to recover from the Asian financial crisis. Vacationers who flock to this popular holiday destination from around the world sometimes don't even know that it's part of troubled Indonesia.

"We try so hard to be better than just another place in Indonesia," said Mistary Wayan, assistant general manager at an inn not far from the crater left by the explosion. "But this is a big bomb. It is very, very bad for us."

More than a dozen employees who cleaned up the shattered glass and destroyed merchandise at the beachwear store have nothing more to do than nap on display tables and wait for the store to reopen.

Nengah Suartini, 24, worries about losing her job as a salesclerk, which pays about $50 a month. Her brother works as a hotel waiter. Her sister-in-law is a receptionist at a resort. Business is down everywhere since the attack.

"We are open, but no person comes here," said Wayan Armini, a saleswoman at a silver jewelry store cater-cornered from the Sari. Knots of armed police officers gather in front of her shop, preventing people from getting closer to the crime scene.

Paper flower wreaths, sent by local businesses in memory of those killed, pile up on the sidewalk and around a parked vehicle. Businesses in the area around the flattened bar -- a restaurant, a spa, an arts and crafts shop, a bank -- are all shuttered.

"I'm scared because this bomb killed my business," said Agus Bayon, 28, a manager of a car rental shop within the blocked-off area. "I'm scared because the next day nobody rented cars and it's making me bankrupt."

Just outside the police line, resort manager Abdul Latif wonders why Bali changed seemingly overnight from a tourist haven to a terrorist target.

"Bali never had any problems with other people. Why did these people do this to us?" he asked, sitting in the empty lobby of a small hotel.

The timing of the attack is particularly devastating. The island had been gearing up for the start of what everyone hoped would be a strong Christmas season after the Sept. 11 attacks kept tourists away last year. Now it's looking like another free fall.

"Normally this week through Christmas we are fully booked," said Kossy Halemai, the general manager at the hotel where the Kingsley Cats, an Australian football team that lost seven players, had stayed. "Now we are down to 30% occupancy. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow."

Even the Cats, who had vowed to stay as long as it took to find the missing teammates, gave up and left.

"We've done everything we can do. It's up to the scientists now," said coach Simon Quayle, referring to the process of DNA identification.

Most Australians, who account for a large chunk of the tourism industry here, had already left or were scrambling to go.

Peter Alison and his wife, Collard, had only been here one day when the explosion shook them so much they wanted to flee as soon as possible. Two people they had met at the hotel were among the dead.

"It's our third time here, but we won't be back for a while," said Collard Alison as she tried to change her flight. She had just learned that if she cut her vacation short because of a terrorist attack, her insurance would not cover any of her losses. But she doesn't want to stay.

"It's not just Bali," she said. "We wouldn't travel anywhere again until the world has settled down."

It's this kind of attitude that unnerves the Balinese.

"Tourism is our food. Our life is tourism," hotelier Halemai said. "We'll be losing business for the next six months for sure. But I believe 100% in the Balinese culture. We will struggle, and we will come back strong."

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