The Indonesian island of Bali reopened to foreign tourists on Thursday, 18 months after borders were closed, but without any international flights.
The island has built much of its prosperity on tourism and the prolonged closure has left many people out of work and businesses, including hotels and restaurants, closed.
The island’s Ngurah Rai international airport has carried out simulations preparing for tourists to return but is not expecting much to happen soon.
“So far there is no schedule,” Taufan Yudhistira, a spokesman for the airport, said of international flights. In the absence of direct flights, visitors from overseas will need to fly via Jakarta.
The government is eager to revive Bali’s beleaguered tourism industry after a sharp drop in coronavirus cases since July, when Indonesia was Asia’s COVID-19 epicentre.
But details about the reopening, such as visa requirements and which countries they apply to, have so far been patchy.
The management of the I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali staged a simulation for the arrival of international passengers, ahead of Bali's reopening for international tourism, which will begin on October 14th, 2021. #JakartaMoversandShakers pic.twitter.com/8KJB7khBra
— Metro Globe Network (@mglobenetwork) October 13, 2021
Indonesia only confirmed the 19 eligible countries in a statement late on Wednesday, including China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, along with several countries from Western Europe and the Middle East.
The move follows Thailand’s calibrated reopening that began in July with much fanfare, with the islands of Samui and Phuket welcoming vaccinated tourists from multiple countries, with hundreds on the opening days.
Vietnam plans to welcome foreigners to its Phu Quoc island next month. With 73 percent of its tourism workers already vaccinated, the island of Boracay in the Philippines is also preparing to reopen for foreign tourists.
But some Indonesian tourism industry representatives say Bali’s reopening plan is not yet matched by demand.
I Putu Astawa from the Bali tourism agency said hotel reservations were few.
“Not yet because the timing is so sudden,” he said when asked about a spike in bookings. “They need time to take care of visas and flights.”
However, the country’s flag carrier, Garuda Indonesia, announced last week plans to add more flights between Jakarta and Bali, citing growth in domestic tourist traffic.
As well as requiring Bali visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Indonesia has stipulated they must spend their first five days in quarantine, a measure that other countries have decided to phase out.
“We are ready to accept tourists who visit Bali, but certainly it does not mean all the guests suddenly visit Bali,” said Ida Bagus Purwa Sidemen, executive director of the island’s hotel and restaurant association.
“At the earliest, by the end of the year we can evaluate whether the situation has improved.”
In a video released on the president secretariat’s YouTube channel to mark the reopening on Thursday, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster said reviving tourism was essential for the island.
“It is very much in our interest for tourism to recover because 54 percent of Bali’s economy relies on tourism sector,” he said.