Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali will welcome its first direct flight carrying foreign tourists for nearly two years on Thursday, but just a handful of visitors will be on board to enter strict quarantine on arrival.
A Garuda Indonesia (GIAA.JK) flight from Tokyo is scheduled to arrive in Bali in the afternoon, with six foreigners and six Indonesians aboard, said Ida Ayu Indah Yustikarini, an official at the Bali Government Tourism Office.
Though the island officially opened to visitors from China, New Zealand, Japan and a few other countries in mid-October, there have been no direct non-cargo flights since then. The six foreign tourists arriving from Tokyo were travelling using business visas since the new rules for tourists were not ready when they applied to come, said Yustikarini. Indonesia has said restarting international flights is intended to boost Bali’s battered tourism sector, which usually accounts for 54% of its economy.
Government officials in Bali are set to attend a welcome ceremony for half a dozen tourists from Japan today, in an illustration of just how desperate the island is for tourism dollars. As previously reported, Bali is re-relaunching international tourism starting Feb. 4, with the government arranging direct international flights and quarantine hotels on the holiday island. A limited international tourism relaunch in October 2021 had been anticlimactic, at best.
Heralding the new phase is the scheduled arrival of a Garuda Indonesia flight from Tokyo’s Narita Airport at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport at 4pm today. The plane will be carrying six foreign tourists, who will be given a ceremonial welcome by Bali officials. “Myself and Vice Governor [Cok Ace] will be in attendance,” Bali Tourism Agency Acting Head Tjok Pemayun said yesterday. “My hope is that the arrival of foreign tourists tomorrow will bring about hope so Bali recovers to what it was.”
Garuda is set to operate the Narita-Bali route once a week. Starting Feb. 16, Singapore Airlines will resume daily flights from the Little Red Dot to Bali. There have been no reports yet of other direct international routes being re-established with Bali. Starting Feb. 4, the government said tourists from any country can come to Bali using an e-visa. For the October 2021 international tourism relaunch, only tourists from 19 countries, including New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Japan but excluding, most notably, Australia and Singapore, were allowed entry to Bali.
However, foreign visitors may be slow to arrive. No international flights to Bali were scheduled on the first day of the reopening and a tourism official forecast travel would pick up in November. Bali’s airport will welcome new foreign arrivals from 19 countries that meet World Health Organization’s criteria such as having their COVID-19 cases under control, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the government minister who leads the COVID-19 response in Java and Bali, said in a statement late Wednesday.
He said all international flight passengers must have proof they’ve been vaccinated two times, test negative for the coronavirus upon arrival in Bali and undergo a 5-day quarantine at designated hotels at their own expense. They’ll also have to follow stringent rules at hotels, in restaurants and on beaches.
“We have to do this with caution because we need to stay alert,” Pandjaitan said. President Joko Widodo credited Bali’s high vaccination rate for the decision to reopen. The country’s COVID-19 caseload has also declined considerably; Indonesia has had around 1,000 cases a day in the past week after peaking around 56,000 daily in July.
Tourism is the main source of income on the idyllic “island of the gods” that is home to more than 4 million people, who are mainly Hindu in the mostly Muslim archipelago nation. Bali’s tourist areas were deserted two decades ago after visitors were scared off by deadly terror attacks that targeted foreigners, but the island has worked to overcome that image. More than 6 million foreigners arrived in Bali each year prior to the pandemic.
Foreign tourist arrivals dropped six-fold from 6.2 million in 2019 to only 1 million in 2020, while 92,000 people employed in tourism lost their jobs and the average room occupancy rate of classified hotels in Bali was below 20%. Statistics Indonesia data showed the island’s economy contracted 9.31% year-on-year last year. After closing the island to all visitors early in the pandemic, Bali reopened to Indonesians from other parts of the country in the middle of last year. That helped the island’s gross domestic product grow a modest 2.83% in the second quarter this year, ending five consecutive quarters of contraction.
The July surge, fueled by the delta variant, again totally emptied the island’s normally bustling beaches and streets. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and shuttered all shops, bars, sit-down restaurants, tourist attraction spots and many other places on the island. It reopened to domestic travelers in August.
Sang Putu Wibawa, the general manager at Bali’s Tandjung Sari Hotel, said only two of its 40 rooms were occupied on average and he hoped the reopening would help the occupancy rate back to normal. “We have been waiting for this moment for so long,” he said. “This outbreak has hammered the local economy … we are very excited to welcome foreign guests by observing health protocols.” Widodo said deciding to reopen Bali was based on its high vaccination rate as well as wanting to revive its economy. He said more than 80% of the Bali population has been fully vaccinated.
“Based on this situation, I am optimistic and we have decided to reopen international flights to Bali,” Widodo wrote in his official Instagram on Saturday. Overall, 59.4 million of Indonesia’s 270 million people are fully vaccinated and another 43.2 million are partially vaccinated. Indonesia has confirmed more than 4.2 million cases and 142,811 deaths from COVID-19, the most in Southeast Asia. Tourists from 19 countries are now able to visit the Bali and Riau islands provinces — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and Norway. The tight timing is one reasons tourists were not immediately arriving, said Putu Astawa, head of the Bali Tourism Office
Airlines need time to schedule flights to Bali, while tourists need time to arrange travel documents such as tickets, insurance and virus tests as well as their five-day quarantine accommodations. He predicted new visitors would start coming in early November.
There will be no Bali-specific concession regarding mandatory quarantine to begin with, as foreign tourists are still expected to undergo five days of hotel quarantine if they’re fully-vaccinated, and seven days if they’re partially vaccinated.
Bali tourism officials say five hotels are ready to take on quarantining tourists, namely the Grand Hyatt and Westin Resort in Nusa Dua, the Royal Tulip in Jimbaran, the Griya Santrian in Denpasar, and the Viceroy in Ubud. A quarantine package can go up to IDR12 million (US$836.88) per person, which includes three meals daily, laundry service, and PCR tests. However, the current prices were set for seven days of quarantine, and may be revised down in light of the central government recently reducing mandatory quarantine to five days.
Bali’s international tourism relaunch has been anti-climactic since the program launched in October 2021. In fact, an official said that not one commercial international flight landed at Ngurah Rai Airport in the three months since Bali reopened to international tourists. Prior to the reopening, the island only saw 45 international tourists arriving in the first 10 months of 2021.
Tourism operators have lamented Indonesia’s strict travel restrictions and have called for exceptions to be made for Bali’s tourists. Bali welcomed 6 million tourists in 2019. The island, which is almost entirely reliant on the tourism industry, came to a standstill when the pandemic hit. Things began looking up towards the end of 2021, with domestic tourists arriving in large numbers to give the island’s economy a lifeline.