Bali’s international tourism reopening plans questioned

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This is why, after September 11, the authorities of this Indonesian island hope to see the return of some of the millions of international visitors who usually flock to its beaches, temples, rice fields and yoga studios. This would allow hotels with long shutters to reopen while providing an income that tourism workers desperately need – some of which have earned nothing since February.Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati, vice governor of Bali and former president of the island’s hotels and restaurants association, told CNN Travel the date remains tentative, but the reopening is critical for the economy of the island. ‘Isle.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the most devastating disaster for tourism in Bali,” he says. “It’s much worse than the Bali bombings, the first and the second, and worse than all of the Mount Agung eruptions combined. ”

Hotel arrivals in July are down more than 99% year-over-year, Sukawati noted, as the island misses about 9.7 trillion rupees (over $ 650 million) in revenue each month. Tens of thousands of local workers have been officially laid off, usually without pay. Thousands of people have lost formal jobs and many workers in Bali’s large informal tourism economy are in despair.

While some Balinese may return to their family orchards, rice paddies, or fishing boats and consider rebalancing the economy towards the traditional way of life that has supported the island for centuries, other islanders literally haven’t. , nowhere to go.

Play the numbers game

September 11 may only be a few weeks away, but before international tourists can return in large numbers, a tricky game of health diplomacy awaits.

Few travelers are willing to brave two weeks of quarantine – either at the start or at the end of their trip – for a short vacation. During this time, most travel and medical insurers will not cover visitors to destinations their government recommends avoiding.

And then there’s the fact that Australian nationals – historically one of Bali’s biggest tourist markets – can only leave the country with a permit indicating an urgent need to travel, and that rules out vacations.

Internationally, skepticism surrounds Indonesia’s handling of Covid-19.

National figures show cases were increasing by about 2,000 per day as of Aug. 18, in a population of more than 270 million. But cases and deaths in Indonesia are likely vastly underreported, experts say. For example, suspected cases who die before receiving a positive test result are not on official death lists.

“I think we can be sure the numbers are underestimated,” says Panji Hadisoemarto, epidemiologist at the University of Padjadjaran in Indonesia.

“We don’t test enough people and we know for sure that a large number of asymptomatic cases or cases with very mild symptoms may go undetected. ”

He notes that nationally, almost 13% of tests give a positive result, more than double the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization of 5% and more than 30 times Australia’s rate of 0, 4%.

Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport reopened its domestic flights on July 31, 2020.

SONNY TUMBELAKA / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

Currently, Bali is showing signs of a successful flattening of its Covid curve, with less than 50 new cases per day for its population of around four million. This is in part due to the effective contact tracing at the village level and the isolation capacity at its Covid referral hospitals.

Yet the impact of reopening to domestic tourists on July 31, including visitors from regions with much higher infection rates, has yet to be seen.

“We have seen from experience that reopening tourist destinations generally leads to an increase in the number of cases,” explains Hadisoemarto. “There is always a risk that tourists will bring Covid-19 to Bali and be a source of transmission in Bali. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bali saw an increase again. “

But Sukawati notes that many tourist destinations in Bali are open-air, which facilitates social distancing, and that the villas’ private locations and their generally open design also promote reduced transmission.

Nonetheless, attempts to establish travel corridors with countries such as Australia, South Korea and China have yet to bear fruit, given their very different approaches to dealing with the pandemic.

On a wing and a prayer

Although air travel is back on the rise, some travelers tell CNN why they aren’t getting on a plane anytime soon

The final decision on when international visitors can return to Bali rests with the central government of Jakarta, which dictates when tourist visas (or the visa waiver for which many international visitors enter Bali) can be issued.

Maritime Affairs and Investment Coordination Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan suggested to local media that Indonesia would not open up to tourists until at least the end of 2020. CNN Travel has contacted the Tourism Ministry for comment. before posting.

Whether the date for Bali’s reopening is September 11, December 31, summer 2021 – or something in between – formidable obstacles remain to be overcome.

“Even though Bali is open to international tourism, then we are talking about international travel to Indonesia,” says Hadisoemarto. “It is therefore a question of international confidence for the reopening of air links. “

Currently, Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport offers direct flights to just two international destinations: an irregular and often canceled service to Doha, Qatar, and a handful of flights to Australia (which is closed for inbound tourism and outgoing). Even purchasing a ticket is no guarantee that a flight will leave as planned.

Jakarta-based aviation expert Gerry Soejatman is skeptical of announced plans to open new direct routes to France, India and the United States on the national carrier Garuda, noting that the Indonesian national carrier does is not the right type of aircraft for long-haul flights with low passenger numbers. Numbers.

“Lofty aspirations are good, but the reality is quite another thing,” he says.

“In Asia, we survived by being paranoid, so it will be an obstacle for tourism in the region.”

Soejatman estimates that it will only take one to three weeks to open the old pre-pandemic air links to Bali, but that negotiation and implementation of a new international route could take up to three months under current conditions.

And until Indonesia demonstrates control over the pandemic, with the number of cases falling and testing levels meeting international standards, it looks like few governments and airlines will be ready.

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