Travellers warned about Batam's 'keep quiet' rule

Passengers boarding a ferry heading for Batam. Some Singaporeans say they are unfazed by the strict rules.
Passengers boarding a ferry heading for Batam. Some Singaporeans say they are unfazed by the strict rules.ST PHOTO: DANSON CHEONG PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

But interest in Indonesian island as holiday destination 'healthy'

A travel advisory was issued yesterday by a HarbourFront ferry operator, telling Singaporean travellers to watch their behaviour when clearing immigration in Batam.

This comes after a Sunday Times report highlighted how immigration officials at Batam Centre have recently begun sending passengers back to Singapore for talking too loudly.

Batamfast, one of three HarbourFront ferry operators that take passengers to Batam Centre, put up a travel advisory on its website yesterday morning.

It urged passengers to display discreet and courteous behaviour and to refrain from unnecessary interactions with others.

Another operator, Sindoferry, said it has also begun warning boarding passengers about the strict rules in Batam.

Ms Cherille Figueroa, Batamfast's station manager, said the rules have had a minor impact on passenger numbers but declined to reveal specifics.

But traffic to Batam Centre is down at least 5 per cent for Wavemaster Holidays Club, said its operational manager Shahzan Shah.

"More people go to Harbour Bay or Sekupang," he said, referring to two other terminals on the island where the rules are not as strict.

Wavemaster ferries about 500 passengers to the islands each day, with the number doubling on weekends, he added.

"I'm hearing more and more people talk about this issue when I make my rounds in the terminal (at HarbourFront)," Mr Shahzan told The Straits Times.

In the last two weeks, Batam Centre officers have barred more than 50 Singaporeans from entering, immigration office spokesman Heriyanto confirmed on Tuesday to Indonesian news website Detiknews.

The immigration office has the right to take stern action if Singaporeans behave in an inappropriate manner, he said. "Expulsion is allowed under the law."

But checks with tour agencies revealed that these immigration rules were not limited to Batam.

"A few months ago, we had a group of more than 20 tourists sent back from Bintan," said Mr Vincent Kong, an agent with Chan Brothers Travel.

The group of Asian expatriates, who were on a company retreat, were drunk and talked loudly at the immigration terminal, he said.

"We try to talk to the Indonesian immigration in these cases but usually they won't allow passengers (back in)," he said.

Since then, the firm has been cautioning customers headed to Indonesia to behave according to the rules.

Despite the new rules, agents say interest in Batam as a travel destination has been healthy.

According to the Singapore Cruise Centre, about 5,000 travellers head to Batam each weekday, and the numbers double on weekends.

Mr Kong said he gets about 30 inquiries each week about the company's Batam packages, mostly from 20-somethings.

"These young families or couples like going there for massages and shopping over the weekend," said Ms Joyce Tim, manager at Planet Travel, which sells at least 20 packages a month to Batam.

Indeed, young Singaporeans like Miss Amanda Ler, 23, an undergraduate, are unfazed by the strict rules, which forbid talking in the immigration queue and using handheld mobile devices. The regulations are posted on pillars at the immigration counters.

"I don't think the rules are that big a deal, as long as you are mindful of them," she said.