Heru Andriyanto, Bali – Eighteen years ago today, twin bombings at two popular nightclubs devastated tourism industry in Bali, so severe that the Indonesian government moved nearly all international gatherings it hosted to the famous resort island to help it regain international confidence.
But there was hardly an event to remember the attacks that killed more than 200 people on Monday, as Bali is dealing with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic that left hotel occupancy down to nearly zero and many people unemployed.
"The situation is much worse today than 18 years ago," I Nyoman Depu, who runs a scuba dive business in Denpasar, told the Jakarta Globe.
He didn't remember the 18th anniversary of the attack by home-grown terror network Jemaah Islamiyah until he was asked about it.
"In the aftermath of the attack, tourists still came here, both domestic and international visitors, albeit in a much lower number," the 47-year-old recalled.
"But the impact from the pandemic is much worse. Only a few people have come to my place since June. Sometimes many weeks passed by without a single guest so I depend on charity from my friends to support the family."
Since many countries imposed travel restrictions in April followed by Indonesia's decision to close borders for non-essential travelers, fewer than 500 foreign tourists have landed in Bali's international airport, according to data from the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry.
By comparison, international arrivals in Bali dropped from 1.3 million in 2002 to around 100,000 in 2003 due to the economic impacts of the bombings.
Bali, whose economy depends largely on the tourism sector, was the hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic with a contraction of 10.98 percent in the second quarter.
The central government is offering assistance again, but this time with a knowledge that there's nothing they can do to lure foreign arrivals as long as coronavirus shutdown is still in place.
"We will continue to lend our support to Bali, we have been running many programs designated for Bali," Deputy Tourism Minister Rizki Handayani told a gathering in the provincial capital Denpasar.
"In April, for example, we distributed 40,000 packages of basic supplies for tourism workers in Bali, the biggest number of recipients in this sector," she said.
Earlier this year, the government launched the "We Love Bali" program aimed at boosting domestic arrivals in the island.
"We allocated 80 percent of the [promotion] budget to Bali. Normally we prepared souvenirs or t-shirts in Jakarta but now we bought everything directly from Bali," Rizki said.
Acknowledging that it's unlikely to get the tourism business back to any semblance of where it stood last year, Rizki said the government is focusing on encouraging national travelers to visit Bali and making the best preparations possible until the global travel business fully reopens.
"We focus on our own market and we have talked with our friends in Jakarta and Bandung on how to bring them to Bali," she said.
Survival and getting prepared for post-Covid era were also the tone of the remarks by I Putu Astawa, the head of Bali's provincial tourism department.
"The Covid pandemic allows us to reshape and rethink our tourism industry in the future, how to enhance our competitiveness and make Bali a more respected destination," Astawa said.
"We must do this because Bali doesn't have other resources. We don't have coal, we don't have gas," he said. Neither did he mention anything about the Oct. 12, 2002 attacks.