Indonesia to reopen Batam, Bintan to fully vaccinated Singapore travellers

Under the arrangement, travellers from Singapore are allowed to enter Indonesia via Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam and Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal in Bintan. PHOTOS: ST FILE, KTM RESORT BATAM/INSTAGRAM, BINTAN LAGOON RESORT

BINTAN - After two years of lull in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic, the popular Indonesian holiday islands of Bintan and Batam are finalising plans to reopen their shores to leisure travellers from Singapore.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto on Monday (Jan 24) said the Indonesian government was now prepared to launch the travel bubble as Covid-19 cases on the two islands are under control.

All required protocols for the bubble have been put in place, he said.

"The Indonesian government is encouraging the establishment of travel bubble between Batam, Bintan and Singapore... This would help spur tourism," said Mr Airlangga.

He did not give a date they were working towards for the reopening.

The announcement came ahead of the Leaders' Retreat between Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday.

Under the arrangement, travellers from Singapore are allowed to enter Indonesia via Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam and Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal in Bintan.

They must be fully vaccinated and must have stayed in Singapore for at least 14 days prior to their arrival, according to a circular by Indonesia's Covid-19 task force.

They must also show a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within three days before departing Singapore and take another when they arrive in Indonesia.

Upon arrival, travellers may proceed to the immigration counter only if they test negative. The circular does not indicate the waiting time for test results.

Travellers who test positive with no or mild symptoms will be referred to an isolation facility. Those with moderate or severe symptoms will be referred to a hospital.

Other requirements under the travel bubble include a holiday insurance package that would cover hospital treatment worth $30,000 for the travellers.

Singapore had earlier announced a unilateral vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with Indonesia on Nov 29.

That VTL later required quarantine for visitors from Indonesia, following a rise in Covid-19 cases in the country, according to Ms Pauline Suharno, secretary-general of Indonesia's travel agency association.

A Straits Times check on Sunday and Monday found port workers at the Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal in Bintan putting on the final touches to welcome Singaporeans and ensure they travel safely.

At the ferry terminal, reverse transcription PCR test desks have been set up. There are also standing banners to inform travellers to download the PeduliLindungi app, the Indonesian equivalent of Singapore's TraceTogether app, to facilitate contact tracing.

The Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal in Bintan is expected to welcome Singaporeans when the vaccinated travel bubble between Singapore and Indonesia takes effect. ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
A standing banner at the Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal to inform travellers to download the PeduliLindungi app, the Indonesian equivalent of Singapore's TraceTogether app, to facilitate contact tracing. ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

Hotels and tour operators are upbeat about the reopening.

In the last two years, some hotels such as Bintan's Cassia beachfront apartment hotel have had to slash their rates by half to stay afloat.

Ms Pauline said tour operators and spas are planning to give discounts to attract Singaporeans.

"We have heard plans of this travel bubble a few times. Hopefully this time around, they are really going ahead," she told The Straits Times.

But recovery takes time.

"They (Singaporeans) need to talk to their bosses, find colleagues to stand in while they go on holiday. Not like bosses in Indonesia who are more flexible and may tolerate last-minute leave requests," she added.

Meanwhile others hope that the travel bubble will result in a trickle down effect.

At the Lagoi Bintan Resort, some merchants operating in the employees’ housing complex have closed down for good since the full impact of the pandemic set in about one and a half years ago. 

The Lagoi Bay area on Indonesia's Bintan Island. PHOTO: BINTAN RESORTS INTERNATIONAL
Fruit and vegetable seller Heru Sujatmiko said the travel bubble "will give a fresh breeze to our business here". ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

“We cater to the hotel employees at this resort. They are our customers. Many of them got laid off or had their pay slashed by half,” Mr Heru Sujatmiko, a 46-year-old fruit and vegetable seller, told The Straits Times.

But his business survived, thanks to his savings and frugal lifestyle, though he was forced to lay off his two store helpers and took over the jobs himself, with help from his wife.

“This travel bubble thing will give a fresh breeze to our business here,” said the father of two.

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