Bali without tourists: once-bustling hotspots now eerie and overgrown – a photo essay

Tourism on the island came to a standstill at the beginning of the pandemic. Putu Sayoga captures the impact on a once thriving industry

The sun is slowly disappearing on Jimbaran beach. The restaurants lining the beach have started to turn on their lights, but not all of them are open. Some lie abandoned, festooned with wild plants and weeds. The beach itself is empty.

The scene is repeated in Bali’s other once popular tourist spots such as Kuta, Ubud, and Sanur. On either side of the road, shops, cafes, and restaurants are closed. Unclothed mannequins stand unused in the windows. Shelves are bare. Clubs and beach clubs are closed and unattended, lending the neighbourhood a slightly eerie air.

Closed parasols on a beach in Kuta
  • Closed parasols stand on a beach in Kuta.

International flights to and from Bali have been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic since April 2020, and the island has been hit hard. Tourism usually accounts for 60% of Bali’s economy, and the border closure has cost thousands of hospitality workers their jobs.

A neglected tourist information centre in Kuta
Closed fashion store in Kuta
  • A neglected tourist information centre and a closed fashion store in Kuta.

Dr Nyoman Sukma Arida, a lecturer at the tourism faculty of Udayana University, believes Bali needs alternative sources of income. “Relying solely on a fragile tourism economy is of course very risky,” he said. “Bali can go back to agriculture while looking for other alternatives to support its economy, such as the digital economy, so as not to depend on tourism alone.”

Closed spa in Ubud
  • A closed spa in Ubud.

Efforts to reopen Bali, such as the government’s vaccination program, are ongoing. According to data from the Indonesian Ministry of Health, the vaccination rate in Bali has reached 97% for the first dose and 78% for the second, one of the highest in Indonesia.

Neglected beach bar in Jimbaran.
A neglected beach bar in Jimbaran. Photograph: Putu Sayoga
Empty chair at a closed restaurant in Kuta.
A closed restaurant in Kuta. Photograph: Putu Sayoga
Neglected restaurant in Jimbaran.
Neglected restaurant in Jimbaran. Photograph: Putu Sayoga

The latest plan from the Indonesian government, announced by minister Luhut Panjaitan this week, is to open Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport to international flights from China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia on 14 October. Visitors must undergo eight days of quarantine at a hotel, with the expenses to be borne by the travellers themselves.

Neglected beach club in Sanur.
  • Above: empty daybeds at what was once a busy beach club in Sanur. Below: a rusted tuk tuk.

A broken and rusted tuk tuk

Wayan Wilyana is a private tour guide from the village of Batubulan, where many people work in the tourism sector. He says that since the pandemic his income has dropped drastically. Now he can only depend on local tourists, who rarely look for guides. Thankfully, he was finally able to find a solution by selling mats and blinds to support his family. “Due to this pandemic I think that in the future working in tourism should only be my side job considering how fragile this industry is,” he says.

• This gallery was amended on 9 October 2021. Due to a caption editing error, an earlier version suggested the daybeds on the beach at Sanur were overturned tables.

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