“Travelers are panicking” after Lombok, an emerging tourism destination, was hit by multiple earthquakes. But should they?
After the Indonesian island of Lombok was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that has killed at least 90 people on Aug. 5, aftershocks have continued to shake the island. The quake followed a 6.4-magnitude on July 29, which killed 17; the island, home to hundreds of resorts, has been under various states of emergency since late July. Residents are slowly readjusting to the new normal as they have to pick up the pieces and working for a tourism recovery on Lombok island.
Tourism is an increasingly important part of Lombok’s economy, and while the island doesn’t get the numbers of neighboring Bali, it has been earmarked by the government as an emerging destination. Last year President Joko Widodo identified 10 places around Indonesia’s 17,000 islands to target as the next Bali, among them an integrated resort development in South Lombok called Mandalika. The earthquakes, though, may have temporary disrupted those plans.
Read more about the Mandalika project
“Travelers are panicking,” wrote John Konstantinidis, general manager of Authentic Lombok, a tour operator based in the popular, west-coast beach area Senggigi, over email; he has lost 50 percent of bookings since the July 29 earthquake, he added. “A lot of people are also canceling because their hotels are damaged.”
Supratman Samsi, who has run Adventure Lombok, an outfitter also based in Senggigi, since 2006, said his bookings have dropped 20 percent, even though large sections of the island were not damaged by the quakes. “People are scared — it’s the first word they write in their emails,” he said. “For sure the people here need to recover from the trauma but we also need the media to tell everyone how beautiful Lombok is, how amazing it still is. The areas affected were the east, north and west.” Gili Trawangan, where images and video of stranded tourists massed on beaches have gone viral, is off Lombok’s northwest coast.
“Here in Senggigi many tourists have left, but some have stayed, saying that this can happen anywhere,” Mr. Samsi continued. “And I don’t think the effects will be forever.”
Hotels in parts of the island have closed as owners and management assess damage. The Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort evacuated guests, many of whom chose to leave the island. While the property had no known reports of injuries to hotel guests or staff, it is not accepting bookings for now, as it assesses its structural integrity, according to a spokeswoman.
The Aruna Senggigi Resort & Convention has also closed its main building “for tests,” said Indah Puritiara, the resort’s marketing communications assistant manager, adding that some online travel agents have canceled about 50 percent of their bookings because of the quake. “Our building is still safe but we want to check it and all the rooms,” she said.
The Golden Palace, a four-star property in Mataram (the capital of West Nusa Tenggara, Lombok’s province) that welcomes mainly Indonesian guests, is also closed for safety checks while the luxury resort Oberoi Lombok, on the northwest coast near the Gili islands, is closed because of damage. Other properties in the northwest couldn’t be reached by phone, their lines out of service or permanently busy.
Air carriers have also reported cancellations. A spokesman for Singapore Airlines Limited, parent company of SilkAir, one of two airlines that flies to the island from outside Indonesia (the other is AirAsia), confirmed the cancellations, but declined to give exact numbers.
Yet among the gloom some travel analysts and observers see reason to be hopeful. “The observation I have made is that one would think increasing terrorism would put a dampener on business travel, but we have found this to not be the case, business travel is increasing,” said Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director for International SOS, a medical and travel security company. “If terrorism doesn’t have an impact on travel, then I am not sure this earthquake would have an effect.”
He is quick to point out that the earthquake does present real dangers. “In addition to the seismic activity, the rubble, the physical trauma, broken bones, there is lots of dust in the atmosphere and this can exacerbate underlying conditions,” he said.
People on the ground in and around Lombok note that the reality on the island is more nuanced than the viral images suggest. In some sections of Lombok, business continues as if nothing happened. At Sempiak Villas on the south coast, the rooms are full and the resort continues to receive inquiries from travelers that have left devastated areas. Erik Barreto, who is based in Singapore and a founder of Rascal Republic, a parent company that has hospitality projects around Indonesia, including Lombok, described the general situation in the south as stable.
“There are people in affected areas that can’t get food and water. But we have a site in the south where we are building villas and a hotel called Samara Bay and there was no physical damage,” he said over the phone from neighboring Bali. But that doesn’t mean resumption of normality will happen quickly. “Places usually fully recover in two to three years” after major natural disasters.
Others are more sanguine. Steven Moloney, who owns the boutique hotel Rascals Kuta Lombok (no relation to Mr. Barreto’s company), on the island’s south coast, said his property is at full occupancy. “People in south Lombok felt the earthquake like a tremor — there was a little bit of shock, and then everything went back to normal,” he said. “Some travelers who were staying in the north have now come down to Kuta. The restaurants here are full. People forget about things like this in two or three months.”