Just as the tourism sector is recovering from a turbulent past few years, the first case of bird flu struck the island of Bali last week in the midst of the high season.
After a 29-year-old woman who had contracted the H5N1 disease died on August 12 in the Jembrana district, officials set to work to contain the situation. Although this is the first reported case on the island, Indonesia has been the worst affected country, with 83 human deaths registered thus far.
"An important worry for us is the H5N1 epidemic disease, which is a potential threat to our tourist cycle," Dewa Beratha, the governor of Bali, told OBG. "Bali's location is very close to the other islands and transportation is very smooth, so there is a problem of illegal poultry imports."
The Bali provincial government took swift action to minimise the health hazard and its potential impact on tourism. Indonesia agreed this week to share samples of the virus with the World Health Organisation (WHO), which it had refused to do in the past.
To contain the spread of the disease, the government also culled over 5400 fowls over the week-end, and stopped the transportation of poultry in and out of Jembrana district.
"We have taken necessary steps and we have many experts working with us on how to eradicate the disease," the governor told OBG.
Swift action is welcome, as Bali has been affected by a number of incidents over the past few years that did the island no favours. In the aftermath of two terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005, Bali has beefed up its security measures, particularly around the resorts in Nusa Dua, on the south end of the island.
The Indonesian government seeks to attract 6m tourists this year, with Bali set to contribute a sizeable amount to this total. The number of arrivals in Bali for the first half of 2007 rose by 35% year-on-year to reach 745,949.
"Bali is set to attract at least 1.45m tourists in 2007, a 15% rise compared to 2006," Beratha told OBG. "In other words, Bali is set to contribute between 24.6% and 26.7% of the total tourists to Indonesia."
To meet this target, both local and national governments have embarked on a strategy to advertise the island's stability.
Newly empowered by the regional decentralisation programme, the provincial government has proposed a new branding strategy for Bali, called 'Shanti, Shanti, Shanti' ('Peace, Peace, Peace'). Unveiled to the Bali Hotels Association in the first week of August, this initiative seeks to promote the peaceful nature of this destination, capitalising on its Hindu heritage and culture.
Bali's tourism strategy also relies on opening more domestic and international flights, as most flights into Bali are already operating at full capacity. Certain international carriers, who had cut capacity in the aftermath of the bombings, are being encouraged to add more flights.
Finally, Bali intends to capitalise on its assets as a conference venue, as illustrated by the upcoming United Nations-organised World Summit on Global Warming, which should attract 10,000 participants in December. It is one of many conferences organised in Nusa Dua's International Convention Centre. With an overall capacity of 37 five-star, 29 four-star and 38 three-star hotels, the island is certainly equipped to host large conferences.