(CNN) International tourists have returned in droves to the popular resort island of Bali as the coronavirus pandemic recedes, raising hopes that Indonesia’s hard-hit tourism sector is on its way to recovery.
But this week the Indonesian Parliament will demonstrate controversial new laws that ban cohabitation and sex outside of marriage. The laws apply not only to residents, but also to resident foreigners and tourists in the country, raising concerns among experts.
Indonesia bans sex outside of marriage in new penal code passed by parliament
Although the changes are not expected to take effect for three years, industry players tell CNN the new penal code could deter foreigners from visiting the country and damage its global reputation, depriving it of vital tourism revenue.
A blow to tour operators
“From our point of view, as tourism industry players, this law will be very counterproductive to Bali’s tourism industry, especially the chapters on sex and marriage,” said Putu Winastra, president of the country’s largest tourism association, the Association of Indonesia Travel and Travel Agencies (ASITA).
The new laws are seen as a response to growing religious conservatism in recent years in majority-Muslim Indonesia, where strict Islamic codes apply in some parts of the country. In Bali, the population is predominantly Hindu and consequently tends to have a more liberal social environment that attracts Western tourists.
Indonesian lawmakers have defended the new laws, saying they were an attempt to meet “public aspirations” in a diverse nation. The Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, said on Tuesday that it was not easy for a multicultural and multi-ethnic country to make a penal code that “accommodates all interests”.
Winastra says the new laws caught him and others off guard because they believed the government had been too enthusiastic about increasing foreign tourist arrivals. “Now there will be rules and laws that will weigh down tourists and the sector,” he adds.
Like most of the world’s top tourist spots, Bali suffered severe economic downturns during the covid-19 pandemic.
From more than 500,000 foreign visitors a month, arrivals plummeted to as low as 45 in the full year of 2021.
But with the pandemic out, government and tourism industry officials had forecast a healthy revival in tourism, which could bring billions of dollars of revenue into the country’s economy.
Earlier this year, the World Travel & Tourism Council, a global industry body, forecast 10% annual growth for Indonesia’s tourism industry over the next 10 years, predicting that the sector would contribute nearly $118 billion. to the country’s GDP, while creating more than 500,000 jobs each year for the next decade.
Local guide Ken Katut told CNN Travel that he believed things were “progressing in the right direction” in the tourism sector after G20 leaders held a summit in Bali in November.
The hotels were packed with delegates, Ken said, and he was “delighted” to be busy ferrying tourists around the island.
“The G20 was great for us, who had been out of work during the pandemic,” he said. “He brought Bali back to life.”
Now, some worry that the momentum was cut off just as it was starting to pick up.
what you need to know
Tourists have flocked back to Bali thanks to the decline in the covid pandemic. Credit: Johannes P. Christo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Under the new penal code, anyone, Indonesian or foreign, found guilty of adultery or premarital affairs could face up to 12 months in jail. It is not yet clear how these laws will be applied.
“Do tourist couples (visiting Bali) have to prove they are married? Should we ask them if they are married or not?” Putu wonders.
“Now foreign tourists will think twice before traveling to Bali because they could be jailed for breaking the laws.”
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Rights groups have pointed out how the laws will disproportionately affect women and members of the gay community, adding that they could “provide an avenue for selective enforcement of the law.”
Hotel operators have also opposed the laws, arguing that they would find it difficult to enforce.
“Asking couples whether or not they are married is a very private field and it will be an impossible task to carry out,” said Ida Bagus Purwa Sidemen, executive director of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI).
Sidemen believes that the Indonesian government will review the laws after public reaction. “We cannot ask all couples for their marital status. It would create enormous problems for us,” he stated.
“But what will happen to us now if the new laws scare away tourists? Will we go back to the way we are during the pandemic? The government cannot want tourism (income) and at the same time apply these laws that will scare people away. Has no sense”.
The CNN Wire
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