Photo: AP Photo/ Firdia Lisnawati
Cape Town - While Bali's volcano causes a dramatic drop in tourism, locals and tourists already in the country say that it is safe to visit.
According to the Bali Tourism Board’s latest update on Tuesday, 19 December, the status of Mount Agung remains at the highest alert status of 4, as determined by the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation of Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources’ Geological Agency.
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“An exclusion zone covering an approximate radius of 10km from the Mountain’s peak has been determined as being a direct threat from any potential eruption,” says the Board, adding that people living in the exclusion zone have been moved to temporary camps outside the zone.
“Provided the public honour the limits of the exclusion zone we anticipate no casualties should a large-scale eruption take place,” it adds.
The exclusion zone only accounts for 2% of Bali’s land mass, meaning that 98% of the island is safe for locals and visitors.
Alternative access routes
“The fear of potentially being stranded in Bali should volcanic dust close air corridors to Bali has been addressed by establishing alternative routes,” assures the tourism board.
It advises that if tourists cannot wait for flights should Ngurah Rai Airport be temporarily closed, alternative land and sea routes to other gateways, such as Surabaya and Banyuwangi in East Java, “have been established and tested”.
“Although a raised volcano alert has been in place for three months, the airport has closed only once for just two-and-a-half days in late November,” says the tourism board, adding that when tourists needed to continue their travels they were able to go through Surabaya or Banyuwangi to connect to domestic and international flights.
“Should another temporary airport closure occur, Bali’s Governor has stated that transportation to Surabaya will be provided to visitors unable to wait for re-opening of Bali’s airport,” adds the board, encouraging tourists that it’s safe to visit the country which is now facing the dire economic consequences of a dramatic decline of tourist numbers.
See the video encouraging tourists to visit:
Drop in tourism
According to The New York Times, nearly all of Bali’s resort hotels and tourist attractions are well outside the danger zone, but uncertainty over a possible eruption and airport closure has resulted in many travellers cancelling their planned trips to the island.
Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, head of Bali’s hotel and restaurant association, said that the island’s hotel occupancy rate was at 20% at the beginning of December, compared with 60% this time last year.
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Arief Yahya, Indonesia’s minister of tourism, told The New York Times that “Bali would lose about $665 million (about R8.4Bn at R12.69/$) through the end of November because of the volcanic activity, which started increasing noticeably in September”.
“Indonesia is unlikely to make its target of 15 million visitors this year, he said. The country’s goal of 20 million visitors by 2019 is also in jeopardy,” says the report, adding that beaches, streets, hotels and shops all saw much fewer visitors.
Meanwhile desperate times to keep tourist numbers up and recover a quickly declining tourist economy, Indonesia's disaster agency says it is being forced to re-think its tourism options and suggested the possibility of turning Agung into a disaster tour venue.
SEE: Disaster tours' considered as Bali volcano threatens tourism industry and economy
It cited Iceland's Mount Eyjafjallajokull as an example, though it acknowledged there were pros and cons.
"Disaster tours need to be managed well," says agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. "Tourists would need to be fully informed before they arrive, and signs showing the danger zones would need to be properly in place."
Importance of travel insurance
Volcano or not, ensuring that you have travel insurance is vital. It is also important to double-check the terms and conditions of your insurance, as insurance may be null and void if you knowingly travel to a destination with a natural disaster alert in place - even if you do happen to stay outside of the affected area.
At the time of the initial closure of the island's airport at the end of November, Club Travel Marketing Manager Luana Visagie highlighted the importance of comprehensive travel insurance. “Even though not all policies cover travellers in the event of travel disruptions due to an ash cloud, it is crucial to know exactly what you are covered for.”
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According to Simmy Micheli, Travel Insurance Consultants (TIC) sales and marketing manager, if the scheduled transport is cancelled and/or pre-paid accommodation is damaged to an uninhabitable extent as a direct result of weather conditions, "TIC will reimburse the non-refundable portions of travel and/or accommodation arrangements paid by the traveller or for which the traveller is legally liable, as well as the reasonable additional travel and accommodation expenses (three-star accommodation and economy-class travel expenses) incurred by the traveller."
Nicky Potgieter, Flight Centre's Leisure Marketing Leader, says travellers must always check with their travel agent to assess whether they qualify for a refund in such instances.
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