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Visitors return to Bali after Mt Agung eruption causes tourism blackout

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Chinese visitors have returned to Bali after months of a tourism blackout sparked by the eruption of the island's volcano.

Key points:

  • Businesses lost $50,000 in three months during Mt Agung volcano threat
  • In November, about 150,000 locals were moved to evacuation centres
  • Tourists are slowly heading back to Bali since eruption last year

Cancellations attributed to Mt Agung have cost the island an estimated $1.5 billion dollars.

While arrivals from Australia dropped by 50 per cent at the peak of the crisis in December, arrivals from China fell from 100,000 visitors to 11,500.

China's airlines stopped flying to Bali reportedly after a directive from China's aviation authority.

But in the past week the tourists have begun returning, just in time for Chinese New Year.

"During Agung tourists went to Malaysia and Thailand, now they've come back because Bali is safe," Andreas Aris Utomo, a Mandarin-speaking tour guide at Bali's Benoa Bay, said.

"The worst situation was around November to the end of December — it was really, really bad for us."

Mt Agung erupted again yesterday, emitting a 1.5 kilometre plume of ash, but the volcano has been mostly quiet since Christmas.

I Gusti Ayu Nia Arsiani smiles at the camera while sitting in front of her clothes shop.

On the weekend, authorities reduced the mountain's alert status and reduced the size of the volcano exclusion zone from six kilometres to four from the crater.

That means that almost all evacuees have been able to return home.

When a major eruption was considered likely in November, around 150,000 locals moved in to evacuation centres.

"I feel so glad. I can return home, I'm incredibly happy," I Gusti Ayu Nia Arsiani, who sells clothes near the Besaki temple on the slopes of Mt Agung, said.

"Compared to life in limbo moving here and there in the evacuation centre. No more running around and the children's school is now back to normal again."

She expected tourists to start returning soon to Besaki.

Plumes of smoke comes from the top of Mt Agung.

'We're anxious for it all to be over'

A 12 kilometre evacuation zone set up around Mt Agung was devastating to local businesses.

"On a good day we had on average 250 tourist visits but after Agung we only have 50 visits," said rafting coordinator Komang Artawan.

"Our visitors declined fast, especially when the airport shut down for several days.

"We laid off 50 per cent of our employees and lost 500 million rupiah ($50,000) in three months.

Komang Artawan looks away from the camera as he instructs a tourist on what to do.

Gede Suantika, from Indonesia's Centre for Vulcanology and Disaster Mitigation, said Agung was returning to normal.

"This has been a huge relief for us, as the huge eruption we expected has not happened," he said.

"The danger, if it exists, is only inside or around the crater — so climbing is still prohibited."

Mr Artawan said he hoped the volcano was going back to sleep.

"My parents witnessed the 1963 eruption, so I only hope for the best outcome from mother nature. It's been four months of this — so we're anxious for it all to be over."

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