Wed, 30 Apr 2003

'SARS to cost 10,000 Batam jobs'

Fadli, The Jakarta Post, Batam, Riau

The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that has badly hit Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Canada, has had an adverse impact on the tourism and service industries on Batam island, with more than 100,000 workers facing layoffs or dismissals.

More than 7,000 low-level workers employed in around 40 hotels and some 3,500 others employed in entertainment centers, restaurants and massage parlors are facing dismissal or layoff because of a drastic decrease in foreign tourist arrivals.

According to data from the Batam Industrial Development Authority (BIDA), the number of foreigners visiting the island has drastically dropped by 50 percent to about 1,000 per day over the last two months from around 3,000 per day in March and April, 2002.

The owner of the Novotel hotel, Anas, said the occupancy rate had dropped to 30 percent over the last two months from 60 percent in January and February.

"We are making savings and calculating the number of employees that will be laid off for several months until the SARS epidemic has been overcome in the Asia Pacific region," he told The Jakarta Post here on Tuesday.

Turi Beach Resort marketing manager Trozzy said that of 100 rooms in the resort, only five were occupied. "Many European and Middle Eastern tourists have been reluctant to visit Singapore for fear of the SARS virus while many Singaporeans and Malaysians don't want to visit Batam for the same reasons," he said.

The frequency of the fast ferries plying the Singapore-Batam and Djohor-Batam routes has also dropped by 50 percent because of the unfavorable situation.

Health Massage 234 manager Evi said the number of foreign guests visiting the biggest massage center on the island had decreased to around ten from between 50 and 100 per day previously.

"We are still receiving around 10 guests per day but they are mostly locals," she said, adding that she was considering laying off some of her employees to reduce costs.

She added that she might have to close the massage center for the time being should the worst come to the worst.

She admitted that the massage center made a profit of around Rp 90 million per month in January and February, "but this month our income is only Rp 18 million and it is not enough to cover our operating and labor costs."

Joyo, a traditional masseur, regretted the situation, saying the SARS epidemic affected not only Singaporeans but also his income.

He said he and the three other members of his family could survive the economic crisis not from his monthly salary of Rp 400,000 but from the tips his customers gave him.

"Speaking frankly, I usually get between Rp 1 million and Rp 1.5 million in tips from my customers," he said.

Rio Rita Karaoke House manager Mery said she has 12 VIP rooms in the entertainment center but only around two rooms were rented per day.

"Don't ask me about our monthly income. The situation is threatening our survival. The SARS issue has hit the service and entertainment sector worse than the Bali blasts and the Iraq War," she said.

BIDA head Ismeth Abdullah called on the government to forge collaboration with other countries in the region to handle the SARS epidemic and to prevent it from affecting investment on the island.

"The industrial sector will be worst hit if the epidemic cannot be overcome in the next one month," he said.

Riau Deputy Governor R.A. Aziz said the provincial administration has delayed several collaboration projects with Singapore for the time being until SARS had subsided.

"The SARS outbreak has also hit the tourist industry in Tanjung Balai Karimun and Tanjung Pinang," he said.

He called on the Batam municipal administration and BIDA to remain on the alert for the possible spread of SARS to Indonesia through the island by imposing tight checks at the airport and all four seaports on the island.