Thousands of tourists were stuck in Bali after a volcanic eruption forced the closure of its international airport until at least Thursday morning, leading to cancellation of around 700 flights.
Hundreds of Indian visitors, including Vice President Hamid Ansari, are on the island. Ngurah Rai airport has been shut, local media reported. This is a result of the eruption of Mount Rinjani on neighbouring Lombok island since early last week.
Bali contributes significantly to Indonesia’s tourism and accounts for 40 per cent of its foreign tourist arrivals. Around 45,000 Indian tourists visited Bali in January-May this year.
“Bali has become a popular destination for Indians, especially after the ‘visa on arrival’ facility. Apart from being a beautiful beach destination, it has a cultural heritage similar to the Indian one,” said Subhash Goyal, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators. The volcanic eruption also delayed the deportation of underworld don Chhota Rajan, arrested in Bali last week.
Rinjani is among hundreds of active volcanoes in Indonesia. Another volcano, Mount Raung, had erupted in July, the peak holiday season, affecting thousands of travellers. “We have group bookings from India to Bali next week around Diwali. We are not seeing a major impact at this point. However, we have waived cancellation and re-scheduling charges for all customers affected due to airport closure in Bali,” said David Lau, general manager (India) at Singapore Airlines. Jetstar has offered free rescheduling of tickets or a voucher for the credit. Airlines have been advised to avoid routes near the mountain.
“As this is not a (holiday) season time for Indians and schools remain open in most parts, there won’t be much impact. However, many tourists from India visit the islands at all times of the year. We haven’t received any cancellation requests yet but tourists are observing the situation,” said Guldeep Singh Sahni, president of the Outbound Tour Operators Association.
“Visas have been made free from October for Indian tourists and we are expecting about 20 per cent growth in arrivals this year,” said Shelly Chandhok, country manager at Visit Indonesia Tourism.
However, the volcanic eruption might divert tourists to other island destinations such as Sri Lanka and Mauritius, analysts said. “Individual travellers who were booked to travel this week are now rescheduling their trips or making plans for alternative destinations which have visa on arrival facility for Indians,” said Sapna Rateria, director of Cirrus Travels.