The Indonesian government says it is currently drawing up plans for a so-called “travel bubble” with four Asia Pacific countries as part of efforts to revive the country’s tourism sector, despite the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to climb in the archipelago nation.
“We are planning a travel bubble for four countries, which are China, South Korea, Japan and Australia,” Odo Manuhutu, deputy coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, told reporters during a virtual news conference on Friday.
“For the initial stage we are opening [our borders] firstly to those four countries, and other countries will follow suit, and of course health protocols will be prioritized.”
Odo said the Indonesian Foreign Ministry is amid drawing up criteria for foreign travelers permitted to visit the country.
The plan has been met with some confusion from tourism experts and the general public, many of whom noted the surge of daily coronavirus cases, especially in this past week. As of yesterday afternoon, Indonesia has officially recorded more than 38,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,134 deaths.
“I am confused, is it a blunder on the part of the government? Because what is meant by ‘travel bubble’ are two countries whose borders are in close proximity,” Azril Azhari, chairman of Indonesia Tourism Intellectuals Association (ICPI), told Kompas yesterday.
“… It means they need to be in the same bubble. This means [countries] like Australia and New Zealand with similar health protocols,” Azril said, adding that the concept is also known as a “travel corridor.”
Indonesia is the second country in Southeast Asia planning a travel bubble recently, after Thailand also announced last week the possibility of forming travel bubbles with countries that have low COVID-19 rates of infection, including China, Vietnam and New Zealand. Thailand has so far recorded 3,135 coronavirus cases, including 58 deaths, and observed a relatively low number of cases since late April.
Meanwhile, plans for a travel bubble between neighboring countries Australia and New Zealand were announced by those countries’ officials in early May, though no specific time frame seems to be in place just yet. It is worth noting, however, that the two countries have done relatively well in the fight against the coronavirus, as they have recorded relatively low rates of infection and smaller numbers of deaths.
Indonesian officials are also planning to offer packages for “in-city tourism” ladened with strict health protocols, as part of an effort to revive domestic tourism.
“Right now there’s a tendency among the public to choose holiday destinations closer to where they live. In this program we hope to gain the support of regional governments, in terms of promoting ‘in-city’ tourism packages, where of course health protocols will be prioritized,” Odo said.
According to a statement issued by his ministry, domestic tourism contributes more than 50 percent to the Indonesian tourism sector, as the government aims to increase that to about 70 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read more news and updates from Bali here.