SINGAPORE - Ferry operators that run trips to Batam and Bintan have been getting a flurry of inquiries since Monday (Jan 24), following Indonesia's announcement that it will start travel bubbles between Singapore and these two islands.
The strong interest comes in spite of a quarantine requirement for returning travellers from the islands.
Under the travel bubble arrangement, visitors from Singapore are allowed to travel quarantine-free to the 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.
They must also show a negative result for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within three days before departing Singapore and take another when they arrive in Indonesia. They will have to stay within Nongsa in Batam and Lagoi in Bintan.
Travellers returning from the two holiday islands must serve a seven-day stay-home notice (SHN), as Singapore has yet to reciprocate Indonesia's move to open up for quarantine-free travel by sea.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday that Singapore will discuss with Indonesia how it can make the new travel bubbles for its visitors to Bintan and Batam a two-way one, hopefully without taking too long.
Mr Chua Choon Leng, general manager of Batam Fast Ferry, which will operate the travel bubble trips to Batam, said that he has received about 30 calls so far from interested travellers. It aims to start the travel bubble trips on Friday.
It also plans to introduce daily or twice-daily ferry trips to Batam, up from its current schedule of one trip every two days.
"Some people don't mind the SHN, as they just really want to travel," said Mr Chua.
"Within Nongsa, there are five resorts, three golf courses and a beautiful seaside," he added.
"It's really not a bad place to spend three or four days in."
He said that those interested were more concerned about the costs for the Covid-19 tests required to enter Singapore and Indonesia. These fees could go up to about $300 for a return trip.
He also cautioned that ferry ticket prices will increase, owing to the need to house workers within the travel bubble area in Batam and the routine Covid-19 testing the workers have to undergo.
A spokesman for another ferry operator, Sindo Ferry, said the firm hopes it will be given the chance to take part in the travel bubble scheme. She said the firm's phone has been ringing non-stop with inquiries about the bubble.
"Previously, Nongsa and Lagoi have always been the target destination for golfers and also resort lovers," the spokesman added.
"However, we do think that people might still have the wait-and-see approach since it has just been kicked off."
Both ferry operators said the travellers between Singapore and Batam in the last two years have mostly comprised returning nationals and people travelling for work.
Nongsa Resorts said the interested travellers from Singapore so far are made up of those who want to play golf and those who want to travel but not take flights.
The firm operates the Turi Beach Resort, Nongsa Point Marina and Resort, Nongsa Village and Tamarin Santana Golf Club within Nongsa.
Its managing director, Mr Mike Wiluan, said that those who have sent inquiries so far are interested in staying for longer periods. This is due to the shift to remote working, which would allow travellers to stay longer overseas without affecting their work.
Mr Wiluan also said that Bintan and Batam will appeal to those who want to travel yet feel that taking a ferry would be safer than flying in a plane.
But Dr Michael Chiam, a senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said that demand will be limited.
"If it is just a unilateral arrangement, the number of people who will visit Batam or Bintan will be limited, as many travellers may find it costly and inconvenient to adhere to the quarantine and testing requirements," he said.
Mr Iwan Yang, director at tour agency Batam Getaway, which previously organised group tours to Batam, agreed that the hassle of multiple Covid-19 testings will deter passengers, especially for short trips.
"We have transitioned to other businesses while waiting for the travel industry to resume," said Mr Yang. "We will wait for more details before deciding our next move."