Lombok quake a severe blow for tourist industry

The powerful earthquakes that struck the Indonesian island of Lombok in recent weeks killing some 400 people have sent holidaymakers fleeing, raising questions about how its lucrative tourism sector will bounce back. Two deadly tremors a week apart wrought widespread damage on homes and livelihoods, striking during the crucial tourism season, when hotels, local businesses and seasonal workers earn the bulk of their annual revenue. In the Gili Islands, a popular backpacker and diving destination just off Lombok’s northern coast, thousands of terrified tourists jostled on powder-white beaches for departing boats.
Lombok’s airport was briefly crammed with holidaymakers rushing to get flights out, while the main tourist drag of Senggigi has been left deserted.
Alfan Hasandi depended on peak season tourists to see his family through the rest of the year. He and his brothers ran a now shuttered business on one of the islands, Gili Air, offering boat tickets, snorkelling, trekking and vehicle rentals, usually earning five million rupiah ($350) a day during peak season.
“We hope we can rebuild… but it’s impossible because people are still traumatised,” the 25-year-old said.
Located in the one of the most tectonically active areas in the world, Indonesians are used to natural disasters and its tourism industry has bounced back from catastrophes in the past.
But for Lombok, the quakes struck at an especially cruel time, when the island’s tourism industry was on the way up.
Dubbed “The Island of a Thousand Mosques”, Muslim-majority Lombok was always a path less travelled destination than its bigger neighbour Bali, the Hindu-majority island that forms the backbone of Indonesia’s $19.4 billion tourist sector.
But it had been earmarked as one of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s “10 new Balis” with the regional government hoping to develop it into a major destination, especially in the booming halal tourism sector.
Its residents now have to repair and rebuild, hoping that spooked tourists return.
Senggigi would normally be bustling with visitors this time of year. Now boats lie idle along its main beach, restaurants and hotels have been shuttered on its main drag and the usual stream of touts offering services has dried up.— AFP

Kiki Siregar