Paradise Regained? Back to Bali
After two blows to the island's tourism industry, the residents are more determined than ever to win back the confidence of travelers
Rudi Limas surveys his new restaurant, R. Aja’s, in the upscale town of Seminyak, on Bali. The airy, second-floor space stretches more than half a football field in length, and on this April night, at the beginning of tourist season, holds just a few dozen diners. He allows himself a weary smile. On October 1, 2005, a suicide bomber destroyed Limas’s original R. Aja’s, an institution on Kuta Square, southern Bali’s retail hub. Three of his staff were killed that night, and the attack, along with other bombings, crippled the island’s tourism-dependent economy.
"I had to reopen," says the native of Surabaya, Java, who kept his 40-plus workers on the payroll while he built the new outpost of his restaurant. "I couldn’t leave my staff."
"Business is not good," Limas continues, offering me fermented tapioca steamed in banana leaves. "But I’m not thinking about profit now."
Like the hundreds of thousands of other residents of this battered, beguiling island, who rely for their livings on a healthy influx of visitors, Limas can only hope that travelers will steel themselves against lingering concerns after the terrorist attacks of October 2005—which revived memories of similar attacks in 2002—and return to one of the world’s iconic vacation destinations.
"When one bomb goes off, it’s seen as an isolated event," says John O’Sullivan, general manager of the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay. "When two bombs go off, it’s perceived as a target. People are trying to determine: Is Bali safe’"
Attracting more than 3 million visitors annually, Bali is the engine of Indonesia’s $5 billion-per-year tourism industry, which, after oil and gas, is the country’s second-largest foreign-exchange earner. That distinction, and the fact that most of Bali’s 3.4 million inhabitants are Hindu, has attracted Islamic jihadists looking to sow unrest in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
"Bali is like a bowl of sweets," one restaurateur says, "and the ants come from everywhere."