SENGGIGI, Indonesia: 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 – accompanied by dozens of aftershocks – 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.
READ: ‘Why are they leaving me?’: Indonesian abandoned in quake chaos
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, snorkeling, trekking and vehicle rentals, usually earning five million rupiah (US$350) a day during peak season.
“We hope we can rebuild but it’s impossible because people are still traumatised,” the 25-year-old told AFP.
“Our homes have been completely destroyed We don’t have money to rebuild, we need help.”
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.
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.
“We don’t know whether we can operate again in September,” Susi Hayati, manager of the Asmara restaurant, told AFP.
Ketut Jaya, manager of the nearby Holiday Resort Lombok, said it might be a month before they could start taking guest bookings again. Just 19 of the resort’s 189 rooms were occupied by hardy tourists who decided not to leave after the quake.
Authorities estimate the damage unleashed by the two quakes on buildings and infrastructure on Lombok will exceed two trillion rupiah (US$138 million).
But the island soon regained its status as one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations.
“I will now have to stay at home, doing nothing,” she said.
On Gili Air island, some hotels were flattened but others survived. A diving school was barricaded with wood panels and furniture to keep intruders out. A supermarket in the middle of the island was completely empty, its windows broken.
Hasandi said he is trying to remain upbeat, and he said lessons can be learned from the Bali’s recovery.
“People were scared back then but then came back,” he said. “This is a natural disaster, so it should be OK – God willing.”