Bali reopens to tourists, but no foreign flights yet

The Indonesian island of Bali reopened to foreign tourists on Thursday, 18 months after the borders closed, but without international flights.

The island has built much of its prosperity on tourism and the prolonged closure has left many people out of work and businesses, including hotels and restaurants, closed.

The island’s Ngurah Rai International Airport has run simulations in preparation for the return of tourists, but not much is expected to happen soon.

“There is no timetable so far,” said Taufan Yudhistira, an airport spokesman, of international flights. In the absence of direct flights, visitors from abroad will need to fly through Jakarta.

The government is eager to revive Bali’s troubled tourism industry after a sharp drop in coronavirus cases since July, when Indonesia was the epicenter of COVID-19 in Asia.

But details about the reopening, such as visa requirements and the countries they apply to, have so far been spotty.

Indonesia only confirmed the 19 eligible countries in a statement late Wednesday, including China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, along with several countries in Western Europe and the Middle East.

The move follows Thailand’s calibrated reopening that began in July with much fanfare, with the islands of Samui and Phuket welcoming vaccinated tourists from various countries, with hundreds on opening days.

Vietnam plans to welcome foreigners to its island of Phu Quoc next month. With 73 percent of its tourism workers already vaccinated, the island of Boracay in the Philippines is also preparing to reopen to foreign tourists.

But some representatives of the Indonesian tourism industry say that Bali’s reopening plan has yet to match demand.

I Putu Astawa from the Bali tourism agency said hotel reservations were low.

“Not yet because the timing is so sudden,” he said when asked about an increase in reserves. “They need time to take care of the visas and the flights.”

However, the country’s flag carrier Garuda Indonesia last week announced plans to add more flights between Jakarta and Bali, citing growth in domestic tourist traffic.

In addition to requiring that visitors to Bali be vaccinated against COVID-19, Indonesia has stipulated that they must spend their first five days in quarantine, a measure that other countries have decided to eliminate.

“We are willing to accept tourists visiting Bali, but it certainly does not mean that all guests suddenly visit Bali,” said Ida Bagus Purwa Sidemen, executive director of the island’s hotel and restaurant association.

“At the earliest, before the end of the year, we can assess whether the situation has improved.”

In a video posted on the president’s secretariat’s YouTube channel to mark the reopening on Thursday, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster said reviving tourism was essential for the island.

“It is of great interest to us that tourism recovers because 54 percent of Bali’s economy depends on the tourism sector,” he said.

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