Indonesia’s New Sex Laws | How Will Affect Tourist Industry?

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JAKARTA:  International travelers have been flocking back to the popular resort island of Bali as the Covid pandemic subsides, prompting hopes that Indonesia’s battered tourism industry is on the road to recovery.

But this week, new laws were passed in parliament that ban cohabitation and sex outside marriage. The laws will apply not just to residents but also to foreign expats and tourists in the country, raising concerns from experts.

Although the changes are not expected to kick in for at least another three years, industry players tell that the new criminal code could put foreigners off visiting and hurt the country’s global reputation, starving it of vital tourism revenues.

“From our point of view as tourism industry players, this law will be very counterproductive for the tourism industry in Bali — particularly the chapters about sex and marriage,” said Putu Winastra, chairman of the country’s largest tourism group, the Association of The Indonesian Tours And Travel Agencies (ASITA).

The new laws are seen as response to rising religious conservatism in Muslim-majority Indonesia in recent years, with parts of the country enforcing strict Islamic codes. In Bali, the population is predominantly Hindu and as a result has tended to have a more liberal social environment that appeals to Western tourists.

Indonesian lawmakers have defended the new laws, saying they were an attempt to satisfy “public aspiration” in a diverse nation. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said on Tuesday that it wasn’t easy for a multicultural and multi-ethnic country to make a criminal code that “accommodates all interests.”

Winastra says that the new laws caught him and others off guard because they felt the government had been very enthusiastic about increasing foreign tourist arrivals. “Now there will now be rules and laws that will burden tourists and the industry,” he added.

Like most major tourist hotspots around the world, Bali suffered significant economic turmoil during the Covid-19 pandemic.

From more than 500,000 foreign visitors each month, arrivals slumped to as low as 45 for the entire year of 2021.

But with the pandemic in retreat, government and tourism industry officials had been forecasting a healthy revival, potentially bringing in billions of dollars of revenue for the Indonesian economy.

Earlier this year, the World Travel & Tourism Council, a global industry body, forecast annual growth of 10% for Indonesia’s travel industry over the next 10 years, predicting the sector would contribute nearly $118 billion dollars 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 industry after G20 leaders held a summit in Bali in November.

Hotels were bustling with delegates, Ken said, and he was “thrilled” 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. “It really brought Bali back to life.”

Now, some worry the momentum will be cut just as it was starting to pick up again.

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