The Chinese tourists who don't want to go home
Emma ConnorsSouth-east Asia correspondent
Feb 7, 2020 — 4.54pm
Jakarta | Bali's deputy governor will this weekend be praying for China in a carefully chosen Hindu temple as the holiday island mecca deals with the problem of tourists who don't want to go home.
In the 12th century, the Balinese king who lived in the Balingkang Temple married a Chinese merchant's daughter who became Empress.
Nine centuries later, Deputy Governor Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati is using that historic link between the Balinese and the Chinese to make a gesture of sympathy as China deals with the horror of the coronavirus.
Some 1.17 million Chinese visited Bali last year, second only to 1.23 million Australians.
Not all were welcome. The local government took action to weed out the "zero dollar" tourist trade, arresting and deporting Chinese nationals who had moved into local shops and restaurants and were extorting their countrymen and women, who signed on for tours at home and spent virtually nothing with Balinese-owned businesses when they came.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, Bali faces a different problem. Last weekend the Indonesian government banned all travel to and from China, leaving about 3000 Chinese tourists stranded in Bali.
The Chinese government indicated on Friday that it would send a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 777 to Bali to take home its citizens who live in Wuhan, the city where the virus originated. The flight is part of Bejing's containment strategy – it wants everyone from Wuhan back there.
But even if all of the Wuhan citizens on Bali obey their goverment's direction to return home, many others want to extend their stay on the island. They all have 30-day visas, and it seems the average stay by a Chinese tourist in Bali this month will be a lot longer than the regular five days.
"They are afraid to return to their country," said Putu Winastra, the Bali Secretary of the Association of the Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies.
The Balinese are sympathetic towards these Chinese, but they are also concerned their presence will put off other tourists.
"I hope the media does not exaggerate the impact of the coronavirus. We worry that excessive reporting will have an impact on tourism in Bali," Mr Winastra said.
Ross Taylor, head of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute, said Bali authorities needed to tread carefully. "This act of kindness by the Bali authorities in allowing Chinese visitors to stay could, if the numbers grow, alarm Australian tourists," Mr Taylor said.
"To scare off Australians at this stage would be a nightmare for Bali's important tourism industry."