By Sultan Anshori
Dwarfed by a 21-storey-tall statue of the Hindu god Vishnu riding the mythical eagle Garuda, a tour guide on the Indonesian resort island of Bali said he was staring at a dismal Lunar New Year season as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on tourism.
“In the last 10 months, there’s been no income, because there are no visitors,” said Effendy, clad in traditional red headgear and batik sarong, as he stood in the deserted 60-hectare park where the statue is a tourist draw.
In 30 years of working as a tour guide, the Mandarin-speaking Effendy said the peak holiday period of Lunar New Year, which starts on February 12 this year, usually attracted droves of tourists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“My biggest hope is that we can recover from this pandemic quickly… and all activities can return to normal again,” added Effendy, 65, an ethnic Chinese who also uses the name Lin Wen Hui.
Indonesia is vaccinating 50 000 people against the virus every day but its infections and deaths are rising faster than ever, as experts fear its tally of more than a million cases and 31 000 killed underestimates the actual figure.
With foreign tourists banned to prevent the spread of the virus, Effendy now spends the bulk of his time practising the martial art of kung fu at home, while helping his wife to sell packaged rice to earn some money.
The couple have even had to sell some valuables, such as rings and a necklace to sustain themselves, he added.
In normal times, each person in a tour group ranging in size from 10 to 30 brings in about 2 million Indonesian rupiah (R2 146) over a visit of three to seven days, Effendy said.
But as long as the park is bereft of visitors, with rows of seats standing vacant in an amphitheatre that has hosted concerts by groups such as Iron Maiden and daily performances of traditional music and dance, the hard times will continue.
“We will experience economic crisis because of this pandemic, and we can’t do anything,” Effendy added.
Under the onslaught of the pandemic, Southeast Asia’s largest economy last year suffered its first full-year contraction in more than two decades, and shrank almost 2.2% in the fourth quarter.
In the park, a sticker on the back of one seat urged social distancing, adding, “Your health is precious.”