DENPASAR, Indonesia — The Indonesian resort island of Bali reopened on Thursday for international tourists to visit its shops and white-sand beaches for the first time in more than a year — if they were vaccinated, tested negative and came from outside the United States In some countries, quarantine and be aware of public restrictions.
However, foreign tourists may come slowly. No international flights to Bali were scheduled on the first day of reopening, with tourism officials predicting travel will pick up in November.
Government minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who is leading Java and Bali’s response to COVID-19, said in a statement that Bali’s airports will welcome new arrivals from 19 foreign countries that meet World Health Organization criteria, such as controlling their COVID-19 case. Later Wednesday.
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These countries are 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.
Passengers on all international flights must have proof that they have been vaccinated twice, tested negative for the coronavirus upon arrival in Bali, and undergo a five-day quarantine at a designated hotel at their own expense, Pandjaitan said. They also have to follow strict rules at hotels, restaurants and beaches.
“We have to tread carefully because we need to be vigilant,” Pandjaitan said.
President Joko Widodo attributed the decision to reopen to Bali’s high vaccination rate. The number of COVID-19 cases in the country has also fallen sharply; Indonesia has seen around 1,000 cases a day in the past week after peaking at around 56,000 a day in July. During the pandemic, the country has confirmed more than 4.2 million COVID-19 cases and 142,811 deaths, the most in Southeast Asia.
Tourism is the main source of income for the idyllic “Island of the Gods”, home to more than 4 million people, mostly Hindus from the Muslim archipelago. Bali’s tourist area was deserted 20 years ago after tourists were scared away by deadly terrorist attacks on foreigners, but the island has struggled to overcome that image.
Before the pandemic, more than 6 million foreigners arrived in Bali every year.
The number of foreign tourists dropped six-fold from 6.2 million in 2019 to just 1 million in 2020, while 92,000 people lost their jobs in the tourism industry and the average room occupancy rate in Bali classified hotels was below 20%. The island’s economy shrank by 9.31 percent year-on-year last year, according to Statistics Indonesia.
After closing the island to all tourists 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 expand by a modest 2.83% in the second quarter of this year, ending five consecutive quarters of contraction.
The July surge, fueled by the delta variant, once again completely emptied the island’s usually bustling beaches and streets. Authorities restricted public events, closed airports, closed all shops, bars, sit-down restaurants, tourist attractions and many other places on the island. It reopened to domestic travelers in August.
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Sang Putu Wibawa, general manager of the Tandjung Sari Hotel in Bali, said on average only two of its 40 rooms were occupied and he hoped the reopening would help occupancy rates return to normal.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” he said. “This outbreak has hit the local economy hard… We are happy to welcome foreign guests by following health protocols.”
Widodo said the decision to reopen Bali was based on its high vaccination rate and a 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 that we have decided to reopen international flights to Bali,” Widodo wrote on his official Instagram on Saturday.
Putu Astava, director of Bali Tourism, said the lack of time was one of the reasons why tourists did not arrive immediately
Airlines need time to arrange flights to Bali, while tourists need time to arrange travel documents such as air tickets, insurance and virus testing and five-day quarantine accommodation.
He expects new visitors to start in early November.