Bali tourism industry concerned with Australia’s plan to restrict overseas travel until late 2021

File photo of visitors at Dreamland Beach in Uluwatu, pre-COVID-19. Photo: Unsplash
File photo of visitors at Dreamland Beach in Uluwatu, pre-COVID-19. Photo: Unsplash

The increasing likelihood that Australia’s borders will remain closed for international travel until late next year appears to have added another layer of concerns among tourism players in Bali, many of whom had been counting on the return of foreign travelers to revive their businesses. 

Last week, an Australian official confirmed that Aussies should not expect to be able to travel overseas until late 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The country’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said that while domestic travel might resume by the end of 2020, international travel would not be possible until there’s a vaccine.  

Indonesia, with 349,160 confirmed coronavirus cases as of yesterday, now has the highest tally of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Though the country has yet to open its borders or announce plans of doing so in the near future, tourism has been high on the list of priorities among officials. 

“Of course [this latest update] is a great concern, this potentially poses a threat to tourism in Bali,” I Gusti Ngurah Rai Suryawijaya, who is deputy chairman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) in Bali, said, citing the fact that Australians made up the highest number of tourists visiting the province in 2019. 

“We’re really hoping that [borders] will open for foreign tourists. But at this time a number of countries are still closed.”

While the focus on domestic tourism at this time seems to have helped Bali a little, officials have noted that they are not significant enough. An occupancy rate above 40 percent is said to be the minimum threshold for hotels to turn a profit, but the rate has only hovered between 5 and 9 percent since Bali opened to domestic travelers in late July. 

Bali’s tourism-dominated economy has been severely impacted by the pandemic, with more than 76,000 workers furloughed and 532 companies shutting down operations in Badung regency alone, as of early October. 

In addition, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama has expressed concerns that there’s a negative image of Indonesian tourism at the moment in Australia. 

“Our tourism image is not in a good condition. The perspectives abroad, especially in Australia … I see that there’s been negative reports coming out of Australian media,” Wishnutama said. 

The minister emphasized the importance of implementing strict health protocols to improve those negative perceptions, which would help support the discussions the ministry is having with its counterparts abroad. 

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s airport management firm PT Angkasa Pura I said they are in talks with South Korean officials to establish a special route for travelers from the East Asian country to visit Bali during the pandemic.

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