July reopening touted for Bali

July reopening touted for Bali

Indonesia in travel bubble talks with several countries as it tries to speed up vaccinations

Hindu devotees offer incense as they celebrate the Galungan religious holiday at Jagatnatha temple in Denpasar, Bali on Wednesday. (Reuters Photo)
Hindu devotees offer incense as they celebrate the Galungan religious holiday at Jagatnatha temple in Denpasar, Bali on Wednesday. (Reuters Photo)

Indonesia aims to welcome back foreign tourists to the resort islands of Bali, Bintan and Batam by the end of July, with a plan to speed up vaccinations in those areas to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government is in talks with Singapore, China, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and United Arab Emirates for potential travel bubbles that will allow their nationals to visit “green zones”, or sites that have curbed Covid infections and vaccinated a significant portion of their local population, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno said on Friday.

Ukraine and Poland have also submitted requests to Indonesia, guaranteeing a set number of tourists that could travel to the country via charter flights, Uno said. This would ease a government ban imposed since March 2020, prohibiting most foreign nationals from entering or transiting through Indonesia during the pandemic.

Indonesia joins the likes of Thailand and Hong Kong in considering to allow limited foreign travels to support their ailing tourist industries. Like its neighbours, though, slower-than-expected inoculation and fears of a resurgence in Covid-19 cases are throwing a spanner in the works.

Central to Indonesia’s plan will be vaccine supply, which is expected to fall short this month due to export curbs in producing countries. Shots are currently prioritised for the elderly and frontline workers in Covid hotspots such as Jakarta, but a new directive from President Joko Widodo aims to include Bali in the list, Uno said.

“We already have close to 60,000 to 70,000 vaccinators ready in Bali. Once we have the supply, the Health Minister said we can complete the task in two to three months, taking us to mid- or end-July,” for the reopening, said Uno.

At least 2 million residents would have to have been vaccinated for the programme to start, he said.

Batam and Bintan, part of the Riau Islands just south of Singapore, had hoped to start receiving travellers from the city-state by April 21, but that will likely be delayed as discussions continue on health protocols, Uno said. The travel lane will be on the agenda in an upcoming meeting between Widodo and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, he added.

Other tourist sites being considered for the travel corridor programme include Yogyakarta, Belitung Island and Lake Toba in Sumatra, Borobudur Temple in Central Java, Labuan Bajo fishing town in eastern Indonesia, and Likupang in Sulawesi, which caters to Chinese tourists. Any decision to reopen more areas will be driven by data on how well infection has been contained, said Uno.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy aims to inoculate as many as 3 million people in Bali and about 70,000 in Batam and Bintan to achieve herd immunity in the islands before they are reopened to foreign visitors.

Indonesia has inoculated over 10.6 million people so far, the most in Southeast Asia. This has helped halve the number of new infections to an average of about 5,000 a day in April from nearly 11,000 at the start of the year.

As it gradually reopens more sectors, the country aims to climb out of its recession and grow gross domestic product by 4.5% to 5.3% this year. Tourism contributed over 4% of Indonesia’s GDP in 2017 and accounted for more than 10% of total employment, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The target is for the sector to account for 5-6% of GDP this year and gradually increase it to 10-12% by 2025, Uno said.

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