Coronavirus Global situation

Indonesia takes baby steps to reopen travel

Special-purpose 60-day visas planned that restrict visitors to designated areas

People preparing to board a fast boat from Sanur beach near Denpasar on the Indonesia resort island of Bali on Jan 7. Indonesian officials are in discussions with their counterparts in Singapore to allow limited travel to Indonesia.
People preparing to board a fast boat from Sanur beach near Denpasar on the Indonesia resort island of Bali on Jan 7. Indonesian officials are in discussions with their counterparts in Singapore to allow limited travel to Indonesia.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Green zones, checkpoints and swab tests. Welcome to international holiday travel in the time of Covid-19.

Where once a beach holiday required little more than a passport and a ticket, the process will be considerably less carefree, for now at least.

Indonesia is pressing ahead with plans to slowly reopen its US$20 billion (S$26.9 billion) tourism industry, the country's Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno told The Straits Times.

Plans will hinge on careful testing of visitors and staff and mass vaccination drives while restricting visitors from wandering too far.

Indonesian officials are in "active discussions" with their counterparts in Singapore to allow limited travel to Indonesia.

Other big travel markets that may let their countrymen take a holiday jaunt to Indonesia include China and some farther afield, like the Netherlands, Poland and Ukraine, Mr Sandiaga said.

Under the proposals, which are "not set in stone", travellers will be subject to swab tests before and after they fly. Holidaymakers will need to download apps on their phones so that health officials can conduct contact tracing and testing if needed.

For those who succumb to wanderlust, police checkpoints will corral visitors into designated areas.

"Movement will be monitored physically and virtually," Mr Sandiaga told ST. "Of course, we will need to check the market to see what kind of demand there will be."

To be sure, supply will be limited. Mr Sandiaga envisages groups of no more than 50 people boarding boats to Batam and Bintan, two of the five "green zones" proposed for accepting foreign tourists.

Bali will likely field no more than two flights a day at the outset of the pilot programme, with travellers spirited off from the airport to either Nusa Dua, Ubud or Sanur.

Indonesia is planning a special purpose visa that restricts visitors to their designated areas. The good news is that, at 60 days, the visas will be twice as long as the month-long sojourns previously permitted before Covid-19 - more time to quarantine if needed.

To be sure, the measures are aimed at building international confidence in Indonesia's ability to accommodate travellers while mitigating the risk of infection, Mr Sandiaga said.

The government of President Joko Widodo aims to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of Bali's 4.4 million residents in the coming months to slow the spread of the pandemic, he said.

Despite its small population relative to the rest of the country, Bali has had disproportionately more cases than other bigger regions.

On Monday, the number of new cases in Bali was just shy of 190, compared with 910 in the province of West Java, the country's most populous and which is 10 times bigger.

"It's safe to say that we are preparing and we are optimistic," Mr Sandiaga said. "But it has to be when the health officials say it's good to go."

Even so, visitor numbers will struggle to reach even half the four million to seven million this year, a target Mr Sandiaga said he promised Mr Widodo when he took over the post in December.

"Who can deliver that in the current situation?" Mr Sandiaga said of the original target.

At stake for Indonesia is the kick-starting of the vital tourism industry, which makes up more than half of Bali's own economy. The pandemic has been particularly devastating in Ubud.

Once bursting at the seams, Ubud is empty - its restaurants boarded up, its blockbuster destinations desolate.

On a recent weekday, the simian residents of the Monkey Forest were seen galloping across the normally gridlocked street leading up to Ubud Palace, roughly 100m from their sanctuary.

At the Tegallalang rice terraces, touts said the neighbouring village used to earn as much as 15 million rupiah (S$1,390) a day in parking fees in front of the World Heritage site.

Popular vantage points that used to cost 20,000 rupiah a person for those seeking selfies were chained up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2021, with the headline 'Indonesia takes baby steps to reopen travel'. Subscribe