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Indonesia's Lombok struggles to bring tourists back to the beach

Indonesia's Lombok struggles to bring tourists back to the beach Senggigi Beach, a popular tourist destination, was...

Indonesia's Lombok struggles to bring tourists back to the beach

Senggigi Beach, a popular tourist destination, was deserted in late August. (Photo by Jun Suzuki)

JAKARTA -- A series of powerful earthquakes around Indonesia's Lombok island have becalmed a typically bustling vacation destination and undercut the Southeast Asian country's effort to build up its tourism industry.

A month on from the first temblor, streets in the Sengg igi area, usually filled with Western tourists, were uncharacteristically quiet.

Lombok's white-sand beaches and Mount Rinjani -- a volcano with a sea-blue caldera lake -- draw 3 million domestic and international visitors a year. August is usually high season for tourism, but this year, said a manager at a local hotel, less than 40% of guest rooms were occupied.

A magnitude-6.4 earthquake shook the island July 29, followed by two magnitude-6.9 quakes on Aug. 5 and 19. More than 70,000 buildings were partly or completely destroyed, mainly in northern and eastern Lombok, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

By late August, 563 deaths had been reported. Around 410,000 people -- more than 10% of the island's population -- are still residing in evacuation centers.

The government of President Joko Widodo is using state funds to support the island's reconstruction. But in the northern part of Lombok, shortages of heavy machinery have stalled debris removal.

Widodo's government has made manufacturing and tourism two priorities of its initiatives to accelerate growth in Southeast Asia's largest economy. Tourism is seen as a way to reduce socioeconomic disparities among different regions of the widely dispersed archipelago nation and boost employment.

President Widodo told the Nikkei Asian Review in March that his government plans to develop "'10 New Balis,' meaning beautiful but lesser-known destinations."

"We hope these new Balis will attract investors to Belitung, Labuan Bajo and Borobudur," he said.

The president touched on tourism promotion in his annual address to parliament on Aug. 16.

But natural disasters have posed a challenge. The volcanic eruption of Mount Agung last November led to a sharp drop in the number of visitors to Bali from China and elsewhere. In May, the eruption of Mount Merapi caused an airport closure in Yogyakarta, near the Wo rld Heritage site Borobudur Temple.

Indonesia welcomed 7.5 million tourists in the six months through June, an increase of 13% from a year earlier. At this rate of growth, reaching the government's goal of 20 million annual visitors in 2019 looks to be a stretch.

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Source: Googl e News Indonesia | Netizen 24 Indonesia

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