Bali reopens to foreign travelers as COVID-19 outbreak subsides

DENPASAR, Indonesia – The Indonesian resort island of Bali reopened to international travelers to visit its shops and white sand beaches for the first time in over a year on Thursday – if vaccinated, test negative, native to certain countries, quarantine and take into account restrictions in public.

However, foreign visitors can be slow to arrive. No international flights to Bali were scheduled on the first day of the reopening and an official tourism forecast is expected to resume in November.

Bali Airport will welcome new foreign arrivals from 19 countries that meet World Health Organization criteria such as monitoring their COVID-19 cases, government minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said. who is leading the COVID-19 response in Java and Bali, in a statement. late Wednesday.

He said all passengers on international flights must have proof that they have been vaccinated twice, test negative for coronavirus upon arrival in Bali and undergo a 5-day quarantine at designated hotels at their own expense. They will also have to follow strict rules in hotels, restaurants and on the beaches.

“We have to do it with caution because we have to remain vigilant,” Pandjaitan said.

President Joko Widodo attributed the high vaccination rate in Bali to the decision to reopen. The country’s number of COVID-19 cases has also dropped significantly; Indonesia has had around 1,000 cases per day over the past week after peaking at around 56,000 per day in July.

Tourism is the main source of income on the idyllic “Island of the Gods” which is home to over 4 million people, mostly Hindus in the predominantly Muslim archipelago nation. Bali’s tourist areas were deserted two decades ago after visitors were spooked by deadly terrorist attacks targeting foreigners, but the island has struggled to overcome that image.

More than 6 million foreigners arrived in Bali each year before the pandemic.

Arrivals of foreign tourists increased six-fold from 6.2 million in 2019 to just 1 million in 2020, while 92,000 people employed in tourism lost their jobs and the average occupancy rate of rooms in rated hotels in Bali was less than 20%. Data from Statistics Indonesia showed the island’s economy contracted 9.31 percent year-on-year last year.

After closing the island to all visitors at the start of the pandemic, Bali reopened to Indonesians from other parts of the country in the middle of last year. This helped the island’s gross domestic product grow by a modest 2.83% in the second quarter of this year, ending five straight quarters of contraction.

The July surge, fueled by the delta variant, once again completely emptied the island’s beaches and normally busy streets. The authorities have restricted public activities, closed the airport and closed all shops, bars, restaurants, tourist attractions and many other places on the island. It reopened to domestic travelers in August.

Sang Putu Wibawa, general manager of the Tandjung Sari hotel in Bali, said only two of its 40 rooms were occupied on average and he hoped the reopening would help the occupancy rate return to normal.

“We have been waiting for this moment for so long,” he said. “This epidemic has hammered the local economy … we are very happy to welcome foreign guests while respecting health protocols.”

Widodo said the decision to reopen Bali was based on its high vaccination rate as well as its desire to revive its economy. He said more than 80% of Bali’s population has been fully vaccinated.

“Based on this situation, I am optimistic and we have decided to reopen international flights to Bali,” Widodo wrote on his official Instagram on Saturday.

Overall, 59.4 million of the 270 million Indonesians are fully immunized and 43.2 million are partially immunized. Indonesia has confirmed more than 4.2 million cases and 142,811 deaths from COVID-19, the highest number in Southeast Asia.

Tourists from 19 countries can now visit the provinces of Bali and Riau Islands – 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.

Tight timing is one of the reasons tourists weren’t arriving immediately, said Putu Astawa, head of the Bali Tourism Board.

Airlines need time to plan flights to Bali, while tourists need time to organize travel documents such as tickets, insurance and virus testing as well as their five-day quarantine accommodation.

He predicted that new visitors would start arriving in early November.

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