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As Bali losses hit US$1b, Jokowi seeks to calm tourists

[JAKARTA] As losses from an erupting volcano in Bali nears US$1 billion, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and his deputy will visit the island to show the world that it's a safe destination for Christmas and new year holidaymakers.

Mr Widodo, also known as Jokowi, visits Bali on Friday and will chair a meeting of his Cabinet, the president's office said in a statement. Vice President Muhammad Jusuf Kalla will celebrate the new year in the island, named the world's top travel destination by TripAdvisor Inc this year. Indonesia's Tourism Ministry says tourists are safe outside an exclusion zone comprising a radius of about 10 kilometers around eastern Bali's Mount Agung, which has been spewing ash and smoke since Nov 21.

Jokowi's administration is desperate to lure tourists back to Bali, also known as the island of gods, as tourism accounts for about 70 per cent of the province's income. Losses mounted to 11 trillion rupiah (S$1.09 billion) since a volcanic alert was first issued on Sept 21, according to the nation's disaster mitigation agency. Chinese visitors, the largest bloc of tourists to Indonesia, are skipping Bali following a travel warning by Beijing, The Jakarta Post reported, citing Indonesia's Tourism Minister Arief Yahya.

"We want to show that Bali is safe," Jokowi said in a statement, explaining the rationale for holding the cabinet meeting in the island city. The president will discuss with his cabinet the impact of the volcano on Bali's economy among other issues, according to the statement.

Hotel room occupancy in Bali is down to 20 per cent, the Post reported, citing the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association. Almost a million people had been expected to visit Bali in December and January combined, according to Anak Agung Gede Yuniartha Putra, the chief of Bali's tourism office. Now, expectations are for not less than half that projection.

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