Indonesian travellers excited about spending year-end holidays in S'pore as bilateral VTL talks continue

Indonesian Ingmar Salim had initially booked a flight on Nov 28, but postponed it following Singapore's announcement. PHOTO: COURTESY OF INGMAR SALIM

JAKARTA - Indonesian Ingmar Salim will be among the first to arrive in Singapore when the Republic welcomes travellers from his country on Nov 29 under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

The 31-year-old consultant in leadership development and Singapore permanent resident had initially booked a flight for Nov 28, but postponed it following Singapore's announcement, saving himself the need to serve a seven-day stay-home notice in Singapore.

"It's great that I don't have to be quarantined. I don't have to trouble my sister in Singapore to buy me food as she has to work," Mr Ingmar, who has been in Jakarta since the start of the pandemic two years ago, told The Straits Times.

He also cannot wait to watch the Suzuki Cup football matches at Bishan Stadium and play floorball with his friends, he said.

Indeed, travellers and travel agents in Indonesia cheered the implementation of the quarantine-free travel scheme, or the VTL, granted by Singapore.

For a start, there will be two daily VTL flights between Singapore and Jakarta, and this will go up to four.

Mr Budijanto Ardiansjah, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies Association, said Singapore remains a favourite travel destination in Asia for Indonesians, but hopes that the Covid-19 cases in the Republic can be reduced to attract more visitors.

"If the situation improves, travel will surely boom in December," he told The Straits Times.

"Indonesians who love shopping in Singapore have inquired about the VTL, although they haven't decided yet when to visit Singapore. It's likely at the end of this year," he added.

Under the VTL, travellers entering Singapore do not have to serve a stay-home notice. Instead, they have to test negative for Covid-19 two days before departure for Singapore, as well as upon arrival.

Upon arrival, they will be required to take a polymerase chain reaction test, and can go about their activities if they test negative.

Since Nov 11, travellers can submit a negative test result from either a PCR swab test or a professionally administered antigen rapid test.

Indonesia, however, remains closed to general travel from Singapore.

Singapore Transport Minister S. Iswaran on Monday (Nov 15) said he hopes Indonesia will soon reopen its borders to travellers from Singapore, noting that it has already opened its borders to visitors from 19 countries.

On Tuesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met her Singaporean counterpart, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, in Singapore to discuss bilateral cooperation, particularly safe travel arrangements, including through the VTL, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Both parties agreed to continue discussions on VTL arrangements bilaterally (reciprocally)," it added.

Dr Balakrishnan had told Ms Retno that the scheme was extended to Indonesia based on, among other things, "trust in the system, the continued improvement in the Covid-19 situation in Indonesia and the higher vaccination rate", the statement quoted Ms Retno as saying after the meeting.

He said in a Facebook post on Tuesday: "We had a good discussion on the steps we are taking to reopen borders and strengthen relations between Singapore and Indonesia."

The two foreign ministers discussed the creation of a safe travel bubble, particularly from Singapore to the nearby Indonesian tourist island of Bintan, by ferry.

They also discussed the plan to organise a leaders' retreat between President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which previously had been reported to take place on Bintan.

The statement said: "The two foreign ministers agreed to prepare concrete and beneficial results of the meeting for the two countries."

Despite the need to undergo quarantine in Jakarta upon her return from Singapore, content editor Winny Tang said she and her family will go ahead with plans to meet her brother and spend Christmas and New Year's Day in Singapore. She also intends to visit attractions such as Rainforest Lumina at the Singapore Zoo.

"I am very excited. I used to travel overseas to refresh, but during the pandemic, I've just been stuck in Indonesia," she told ST.

"I love Singapore cuisine. I miss Singaporean food like mee pok."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.