The pressure appears to be mounting on the Bali Government as more people are beginning to ignore policies in place for social distancing. As many countries in the world begin to reopen their borders for tourism, Bali has yet to announce a date.
Residents are packing closed beaches while expats have filled beach front bars ignoring all protocols. The island appears to be frustrated but Bali and Indonesian officials are still holding firm that the time is not yet right to reopen.
Local officials fears over local transmission have overshadowed the Indonesian government’s plan to reopen tourism across Indonesia, as the number of cases continues to climb despite the authorities’ health protocols for the new normal.
The head of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies Association (Asita) in Bali, I Ketut Ardana, said on June 2 that the tourist industry on the resort island was still being very vigilant, since local transmission of Covid-19 is still happening. The government needs to carefully decide on whether or not to reopen tourism on the island of the gods.
“If we take the wrong step, the impact can be severe for Bali,” he said. “That is why we must be really careful [in making the decision] and wait until the situation has improved.” I Ketut Ardana told Jakarta Post.
Bali has recorded 695 positive cases as of Friday afternoon, with five deaths and 448 recoveries. The figure is quite small compared to 36,400 cases and 2,048 fatalities across Indonesia.
However, the Bali provincial administration has reported an increasing number of local transmissions in recent days, particularly in the four regencies of Badung, Denpasar, Klungkung and Tabanan.
“If the virus transmission curve were flattening, we may be prepared for reopening. Right now, however, local transmission is still happening, and of course that is one of our considerations,” Ketut said, adding that visitors trust in Bali’s safety would be key for a strong recovery in the tourism industry.
Asita Bali has drafted health and health protocols that will be applied by its members in the new normal.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called on the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry in late May to prepare “special strategies” to restart domestic tourism in regions that are believed to be safe from COVID-19 for the transition to the new normal.
However, he asked the ministry to not rush open tourist areas, urging it to gradually identify areas that were actually ready based number of cases.
Tourism in Bali was severely battered by the outbreak, as people stay at home to contain the virus spread.
Foreign tourist arrivals have dropped 87.44 percent to 160,000 in April, the lowest in recent history.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said his ministry had prepared standard operating procedures (SOPs) for segments within the tourist industry. No exact date for reopening has been announced until the time of writing.
“We are still focused on handling COVID-19,” Bali Tourism Agency head I Putu Astawa told The Jakarta Post on June 4.
“Reopening Bali’s tourism will depend on the development of the pandemic,” he said, adding that the reopening would be done gradually and selectively.
Similarly, the Southeast Maluku in Maluku province is aware that reopening tourism too soon could be a mistake in the regency, which has so far maintained a “green zone” status for and intends to keep it that way. The regency is known for its white sand beaches and Kei Islands.
“For the time being, I still can’t imagine seeing tourists from outside our region come to our area,” said Regent M. Thaher Hanubun on June 4. “If tourism is reopened, we will limit the visits to local people within the regency first, because for now, opening the airport and seaport still entails a high risk.”
The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry’s COVID-19 Task Force spokesperson, Ari Juliano, said on June 1 that the ministry was preparing the tourism SOPs, so they could be implemented when the country reopens. The protocols require all stakeholders to enforce social distancing, to make sure people wear masks and wash their hands frequently and to avoid the formation of crowds.
While waiting for the government’s decision and the SOP for the reopening, regional administrations and associations have worked on initiatives to improve their readiness to embrace the new normal.
Banyuwangi in East Java, for instance, had verified and certified all restaurants, hotels and homestays in the regency to ensure they comply with cleanliness and hygiene standards, said Banyuwangi Tourism Agency head Yanuar Bramuda on June 3.
Bali is also preparing its new normal protocols by lowering the capacity of tourists by up to 50 percent and delaying the reopening of nightclubs, among other things. Meanwhile, the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) has issued an SOP on health and hygiene to all its members.
“The [decision] to reopen tourism must come with risk mitigation and prudent considerations for each destination,” said Muhammad Baiquni, a tourism expert from Gadjah Mada University, on June 3.
Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Travel Agents Association (Astindo), Elly Hutabarat, said the reopening required discipline in obeying health protocol.
“Strict supervision at the destinations’ main entrances, such as airports, will be key for the tourist industry during the new normal to minimize the virus risk,” she said.