Despite active Bali volcano, government wants tourists

The president of Indonesia has been taking selfies on the beach in Bali, hoping to lure tourists back. But is it safe?

It has been a lean tourist season on the Indonesian island of Bali due to an erupting volcano.

Mount Agung’s eruption, which began in September, forced the island’s airport to close for two days last month, and visitor arrivals have dropped by more than 70 percent.

Facing $1bn in lost tourist revenue, the Indonesian government is trying to lure tourists back to the holiday island.

“While the volcano continues to erupt, the government has gone out of its way to convince tourists that Bali is safe, outside of the danger zone of 10km from the crater,” Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Sidemen in Bali, said.

The huge loss in tourist revenues has taken authorities by surprise. Some say this is a wakeup call for the holiday island not to fully rely on tourism.”

Mount Agung is still at its highest alert level, meaning that people within a 10km radius are potentially in danger.

WATCH: Evacuees eager to return despite eruption danger

Inside the danger zone, tourists have been visiting Bali’s most famous temple, Besakih, which lies just 7km from the crater of the volcano.

The site had been off limits for the past three months.

Ida Bagus Agung Partha, Bali’s tourism board chairman, said he did not agree with the decision to reopen the site.

“There are many other places where tourists can go in Bali,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We can’t predict nature. It’s better to put safety first.”

About five million tourists visit Bali annually, but after the eruptions and airport closure last month, several countries, including China, issued travel warnings.

Hotels far away from the volcano were empty, and owners were forced to temporarily suspend staff.

Widodo’s visit

To reassure tourists, President Joko Widodo even took selfies with visitors while on a visit to one of Bali’s famous beaches.

Tourism recovered slightly during the holiday season, but many Balinese, including mountain guide Komang Kayun, are continuing to suffer.

He normally takes about 1,000 hikers up Mount Agung each year, but since September, his business has stopped.

“I am confused what to do now,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I want to work, but I have no other work experience than being a guide. I hope someone can give us a job because all 62 guides of Mount Agung are now jobless. We have no money to go back to farming.”

Volcanologists say nobody can predict how long Mount Agung will erupt, or if the eruptions will become bigger.

Many Balinese are suffering due to Mount Agung's volcanic activity [Andri Tambunan/Getty]
Many Balinese are suffering due to Mount Agung’s volcanic activity [Andri Tambunan/Getty]

The last time it erupted in 1963, more than 1,500 people living near the volcano were killed.

In recent months, Made Wija has learned how fragile his business is. His small resort in a safe area near the volcano has been mostly empty, and he has been unable to pay his staff.

“What I have learned from this situation is that we have no choice than to accept what happens to us and start to look for alternatives,” Wija told Al Jazeera.

“If my resort business fails, then maybe I can start selling food.”

But not all is lost: for some tourists, the erupting volcano has become an attraction in itself – and perhaps with the right safety measures in place, Bali could use this spectacle of nature to its advantage.