Sat, 12 Apr 2003

SARS alert causes fall in Jakarta hotel occupancy rates

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The world alert on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has caused the occupancy rates of hotels in Jakarta to drop by 15 to 20 percent.

Chairwoman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), Yanti Sukamdani Hardjoprakoso, told The Jakarta Post on Friday that the drop followed the decrease in the number of tourists to the city.

The drop in hotel occupancy was greater than the decline in the aftermath of the Bali bombing last year.

"At that time, the occupancy rate of hotels in Jakarta only declined by about 10 percent," she said.

Due to the SARS alert, many airlines have cut back flights as demand has fallen, particularly flight to the SARS-affected areas.

A SARS-affected area is defined as an area where a local chain(s) of transmission of SARS is or are occurring as reported by national public health authorities.

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) update reported that four countries have been declared as affected: Canada, Singapore, China and Vietnam.

Although Indonesia is not yet on the list, it is geographically close to Singapore.

The Indonesian government reported a single probable case of SARS on Friday, but according to WHO representative Steve Bjorg, it would not add Indonesia to the SARS-affected area list.

"It will only be added to the list of the cumulative number of reported cases of SARS," Bjorg told the Post.

Yanti said there was also a decrease in the restaurant business, but she was not yet able to provide a figure.

"There is a decrease, but smaller than the one in the hotel business," said Yanti.

Meanwhile, vegetable vendors in Kramat Jati wholesale market in East Jakarta suffered a significant decline in sales. Vendors at the market sell vegetables in bulk and usually provide supplies for hotels, restaurants and other culinary businesses.

However, most vendors were unaware if the decline in sales had anything to do with the SARS alert.

"What? SARS? You mean Suro?" one of the vendors responded when the Post asked if the decline was a result of the alert.

The vendors believed that the sales had declined because of the month of Suro, the first month in the Javanese calendar. The Javanese believe that the month of Suro, which began this year on March 4, is sacred. The first day of Suro is also known as the Islamic New Year.

During the month of Suro, the Javanese are traditionally not allowed to have any celebrations and should behave extra carefully. In general, it is believed the month is inauspicious for most activities.

"Decrease in sales happens every year during the month of Suro. People say that trade is bad during this month, until the first two weeks of the following month," said Welly, a spice vendor at the market.

For example, he said, "I used to sell about 400 kg of garlic per day, but now even to sell 100 kg per day is very difficult."

In fact, he said, although the price of garlic kept falling, it did not encourage people to buy.

"It was Rp 2,500 (28 U.S.cents) per kilogram, and now it has reached Rp 2,000 per kilogram," said Welly.

The market has been experiencing a decline in sales for about a month.

Surmin, a potato vendor, concurred. "Sales is now slower than before. I used to sell about four tons of potatoes daily, but now I can only sell about two-and-half tons per day," he said.

Surmin also said that he believed the decrease was caused by the month of Suro.

"The month of Suro never brings good luck to vendors like us," he said.