Hoping for a return to Bali this summer?
Despite recent findings of new variants, Bali is still planning to re-open to foreign tourists by the middle of summer. But the final plan to welcome foreigners back to Indonesia may require not only proof of vaccine, but be restricted to a small handful of nations.
So far the majority of countries across Europe – and a great deal across the Caribbean – have starting welcoming tourists again. But many other nations are taking a more cautious approach to reopening their borders. Australia, to take the most extreme example, has suggested that it will not restart tourism until 2022. The Indonesian Island of Bali, for its part, had announced last summer that it would reopen to international travellers from September. But owing to a second major wave, that never actually happened. Even now, travellers are only allowed to enter Indonesia for ‘essential’ reasons, with no leisure travel permitted whatsoever.
Some local experts are warning that Bali will find the whole scheme difficult to pull off. Indonesian epidemiologist Dicky Budiman, M.D., suggests the green zone plan may not work out as intended. “As we are still unsure how these new protocols will perform, I feel the government is not being realistic with its June target date,” he said.
Dr. Budiman believes that Indonesia’s high COVID infection rate may overpower any precautions taken by each of Bali’s green zones. “Bali still has a long way to go to achieve the World Health Organization’s minimum safety rate of 5 percent or less for positive test results, and they are still a long way from immunizing at least 60 percent of the population,” he explained. “It would have to be done in a month or two to stand a chance to even think about reopening in June.” But, Bali hardly has any choice in the matter. Due to its outsize dependence on tourism as a source of revenue, the Balinese economy has contracted even more relative to the rest of the Indonesian economy in the wake of the pandemic.
“Fifty-four percent of Bali’s [economy] is supported by the tourism sector,” explained the head of the Bali Tourism Office, Putu Astawa. “There are 3,000 layoffs, and from the data as of February, Bali’s unemployment rate has increased. Under normal circumstances, our unemployment rate is only 1.2 to 1.3 percent; under the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s reached 5.63 percent.”
Despite what the expert has said, Bali continues to make progress in its vaccination efforts, the majority of residents have yet to be vaccinated. Bali is targeting a 70% vaccination rate in order to re-open in July. It has secured two million doses of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca with more to come later this month and in July.
Same with many countries, Indonesia prioritised shots for the elderly and frontline workers in Covid-19 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,” he added. In order to kickstart the tourism reopening, at least two million residents have to be vaccinated.
As a result, Bali is sticking to its re-opening plan. Bali Deputy Governor Cok Ace told the Bali Times“We have yet to shift the target, there’s still a few months to go. A few days ago I was with [Health Minister] Budi Gunadi Sadikin and we are still holding on to our focus for reopening in July.”
In March, the governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, laid out plans for a new safe area within Bali that would allow the island to re-open to tourism in lower risk areas. However, the impracticality of closing off certain areas while opening others has redirected the focus to vaccinations and travel bubbles. This week, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy announced the re-opening of all of Indonesia to tourism in July at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Deputy of Minister for Tourism Marketing Nia Niscaya noted: “By participating in ATM Dubai 2021, outbound tourism’s leading global event, we are demonstrating that Indonesia is confident of maintaining its position as a world-class destination.” Destinations including Bali, Bintan, and Batam will serve as “locomotive” regions to jumpstart tourism for the entire nation.
All those who can get in will be required to present a negative test result on arrival, undergo a screening and quarantine for five days. Within Indonesia, all arrivals in Bali will have to present another negative test result from within the past 48 hours. But anyone craving that long-awaited Bali beach break will be pleased to know the island is now tentatively planning to reopen to tourists from July.
Back in March, Indonesian officials announced a plan to launch a ‘travel corridor’ programme that could allow international visitors by summer. According to tourism minister Sandiaga Uno, the scheme would apply to tourists arriving from countries with low case numbers, high vaccination rates and an arrangement for reciprocal travel.
Recently, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno noted three criteria that Bali is looking for in establishing travel corridors between countries. These countries must:
- contain the spread of the coronavirus
- have high vaccination rates
- offer reciprocal benefits
With Australian borders now closed until at least mid-2022, there is a shifting focus on China. Ace added: “We can still hope for China, in terms of quantity, as they contributed quite a large number of visitors in previous years.” China was right behind Australia in terms of foreign visitors. The reciprocal benefits issue could sink hopes of Europeans and Americans vacationing in Bali this summer.
However, The Jakarta Post recently reported Indonesia has held private talks with the following nations on creating travel corridors:
- United Kingdom
Talks are also ongoing with China, Singapore and South Korea. Noticeably missing from the list is both Australia and the United States. Even if Indonesia opens borders to citizens of Australia, Australian citizens are currently not permitted to leave Australia without special permission (which is not granted for foreign tourism, except to New Zealand).
Indonesian media also quoted Mr Uno as saying he had received a letter from the Australian ambassador, and hoped to schedule a meeting soon to “discuss some of the latest issues regarding tourism and the creative economy”. Incoming tourists would be required to be in “good health, have met [travel] requirements and are ready to comply with all health protocols”, the Jakarta Post quoted the minister as saying.
Our guess is that Bali will re-open to most vaccinated individuals in July despite a slow rollout of vaccines. With only 6% of citizens in Indonesia currently vaccinated, the country has a long way to go. However, with many sectors of the Indonesian economy dependent upon international tourism, it is looking more likely that borders will widely re-open next month. But don’t book just yet.
Remember, many countries are still warning against all non-essential travel and some are quarantining all overseas arrivals, including their own returning citizens. Check all the relevant restrictions before you think about travelling. With its aquamarine waters, thriving coral reefs and endless beachside surf huts, Bali is a picture-postcard tropical hideaway. And while you can’t quite go ahead and plan a holiday there just yet, you can at least pencil in a trip.
Just to be on the safe side, we suggest late 2021 – or maybe even 2022.