The fate of hundreds of business events scheduled to take place in Bali this year hangs on a knife-edge as Mount Agung, an active 3,142m high stratovolcano on the island's northeast corner, threatens to erupt.

Agung is one of more than 130 active volcanoes that run the length of Indonesia, which straddles the Pacific 'ring of fire'. When it last erupted between 1963 and 1964, more than 1,200 people were killed while toxic ash spread as far as Jakarta.

Last week, authorities raised Agung's alert status to four—the highest level—following a surge of seismic activity and begun evacuating tens of thousands of villagers living in the foothills of the volcano.

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“There's a 70 to 80 per cent chance it will erupt within days and probably a 90 per cent it will erupt within weeks to months,” said emeritus professor Richard Arculus from the Australian National University. “But I'm reserving a 10 per cent chance it doesn't happen because whether it proceeds to an eruption is still uncertain.”

And it's that uncertainty—coupled with updated travel warnings issued by the foreign ministries of Singapore, Australia and New Zealand that increased volcanic activity could disrupt flights in and out of Bali—that's making event planners to lose sleep.

“We're getting lots of enquiries from our clients about the situation,” says Jason Lim, CEO of Smailing Tour, a DMC in Bali. “So far there have been no cancellations though we had one client postpone a major event to early next year. Different companies have different risk management policies and we understand they must make the safety and security of their employees a priority.

“But we are telling them it's business as usual in Nusa Dua and other places in southern Bali, where just about all events are held. The airport is open and no airlines have stopped flying to Bali.”

Mt Agung is popular for hiking


Suparta, a director of DCM Bali Group Organisers who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, voiced similar sentiments: “All our clients are calling us with questions and we are telling them there has been no impact on events. So far none have cancelled, but we have a group from Hong Kong that is supposed to come next month for an educational conference who are reassessing their options.” 

Marian Carroll, director of public pelations for the Four Seasons Hotels in Bali, said: “we have received very few cancellations but it's business as usual as a 'force majeure' has not been issued”.

She added: “Unless guests had planned to climb Mount Agung, their activities will not be affected.”

However, a spokesperson for another internationally branded resort in Bali told CEI Asia on condition of anonymity that “hotels like Ayana that specialise in weddings and events are more affected as planners can't take the risk of delegates getting stuck in Bali.”

Ayana Resort and Spa Bali, a super-luxury property in Bali's south with 24 meeting rooms, including a 1,000-pax ballroom, did not immediately respond to enquiries.

A spokeswoman for The Mulia, another event hotel with 20,000 sqm of meeting space, including a 2,055-pax ballroom, would not comment on cancellations, saying only – like all her counterparts – “at present business proceeds as usual”.

Yet what will happen to groups already in Bali if Agung blows?

“All our hotel members have made contingency plans and are aware of what they are supposed to do in the event of a worst-case scenario,” said Rocky Putra, chairman of the Bali Hotels Association. “They have enough food, water, masks and protective gear and umbrellas for all their guests.”

Lim of Smailing Tour said authorities in Bali have made contingency plans to help tourists get home in the event of an eruption and subsequent airport closure.

“They've been preparing for this many years,” he says. “They have more than 100 coaches on standby to take people to the international airport in the city of Surabaya in [the neighbouring island of] Java. That's exactly what they did last year when an eruption at Mount Rinjani on Lombok island closed the airport in Bali.”

Main image: Getty