Indonesia: G-20 meetings a ray of hope for Bali's beleaguered resort and conference centres

The kick-off event in December coincided with the onset of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. - Reuters

SINGAPORE, Jan 23 (The Straits Times/ANN): After a devastating two years riddled with cancellations, some of Bali's biggest resorts are hoping for a turnaround as Indonesia plays host to scores of meetings and conferences that will unfold throughout the year ahead of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in October.

Those meetings - 150 or so mostly to be held in Bali - are expected to inject 7.4 trillion rupiah (S$695 million) into the resort island's struggling economy. An estimated 5,000 delegates are expected to attend the October summit of G-20 leaders.

The meetings represent the biggest and best chance since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic for the island's resort and conference centres to steal a march on competition emerging in places like Thailand where quarantine standards have been relaxed in a bid to woo visitors.

The wild card, though, remains the pandemic.

The kick-off event in early December comprising senior officials from the finance ministries and central banks of G-20 members coincided with the onset of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Only half of the 300 or so officials in attendance were foreign delegates.

"Flexibility will be crucial for us when it comes to the nation's success in being host of the G-20," said Orial Montal, general manager of Westin Resort Nusa Dua, which along with venues including the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Centre will be where conferences and meetings will be held.

Until the onset of the pandemic, the income from conventions and conference business was ballast for hotels and resorts, helping to steady income between the seasonal ups and downs of leisure traffic.

Montal said the Westin typically earned 30 per cent of its revenue from conferences and events. The G-20 meetings this year would help generate 33,000 jobs in Bali, the government has said.

Also, establishing Bali as a trusted site for international conferences is a source of soft power for Indonesia.

A decade ago, the government spent roughly 3.5 trillion rupiah building the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Centre (BNDCC) - capable of hosting 10,000 people a stone's throw from the Westin - and a tollway linking the site with the island's international airport.

Since then, the site in Nusa Dua has hosted climate, political and financial events including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund summit in 2018. This year marks the first time Indonesia has hosted the G-20.

But the pandemic has sent some of those properties scrambling.

Data is tough to come by but global spending on conferences by international associations, for example, shrunk last year to US$1.7 billion (S$2.3 billion) from nearly US$11 billion the year earlier as clients cancelled meetings or shifted them online, bypassing hotel stays, according to data from the International Congress and Convention Association.

Yoga Angga Muda, director of sales for BNDCC, said the convention centre was relying more on government contracts as it recovered from the sharp slowdown in business.

"During the recovery phase in 2022, we are focusing on the government sector with a slight pickup business from the corporate sector," Yoga told ST, adding that he foresaw a turnaround next year.

"In 2023, we already have business on hand from international association meetings."

To be sure, containing the Omicron variant will not be easy. Expect smaller meetings overlaid with more safety protocols.

In November, the Westin said it hosted 500 athletes, officials and referees attending the International Badminton Festival in something approaching a bubble. The event was sealed off from the wider public.

For the G-20, the resort will make use of a premium hotel on its property that can also be sealed off from the public. Delegates arrive on charter flights and are whisked to the resort, hotel officials said, adding that their operating procedures will change with Covid-19 conditions.

Still, Montal is confident that despite the headaches that Covid-19 has caused, demand from clients to host in-person meetings is set to recover.

"I'm very optimistic about the second half of 2022," he said."Face-to-face meetings are coming back."

Indonesia has said it will use its presidency of the G-20 to prod member countries to improve vaccine production and prevent the next pandemic, spur digital finance and renewable energy.

President Joko Widodo said in Rome last November upon assuming the presidency of the grouping from Italy: "We will host your excellencies in the open air, on the beautiful stretch of Bali beaches, which inspires innovative ideas for the productivity of G-20 in the future. See you in Indonesia." The Straits Times/ANN

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Bali , Covid-19 , Recovering , G20 , Meetings


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