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Trikora beach at Bintan Island in Indonesia. The Indonesian resort islands of Bali, Bintan and Batam are planning to welcome back foreign tourists by the end of July. Photo: Shutterstock

Indonesia to reopen Bali, Bintan and Batam resort islands to foreign tourists by end of July, including from China, Singapore and India

  • Government also in talks with South Korea, the Netherlands and United Arab Emirates for potential travel bubbles allowing visitors to Indonesia’s so-called ‘green zones’
  • Slower-than-expected inoculation and fears of a resurgence in Covid-19 cases could, however, throw a spanner in the works

Indonesia aims to welcome back foreign tourists to the resort islands of Bali, Bintan and Batam by the end of July, with a plan to speed up vaccinations in those areas to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The government is in talks with Singapore, China, South Korea, India, the Netherlands and United Arab Emirates for potential travel bubbles that will allow their nationals to visit Indonesia’s so-called “green zones”, or sites that have curbed Covid-19 infections and vaccinated a significant portion of their local population, said tourism and creative economy minister Sandiaga Uno.

Ukraine and Poland had also submitted requests to Indonesia, guaranteeing a set number of tourists that could travel to the Southeast Asian nation on charter flights, Uno said. This would ease a government ban imposed since March 2020, prohibiting most foreign nationals from entering or transiting through Indonesia during the pandemic.

Indonesia joins the likes of Thailand and Hong Kong in considering to allow limited foreign travel to support their ailing tourist industries. Like its neighbours, though, slower-than-expected inoculation and fears of a resurgence in Covid-19 cases are throwing a spanner in the works.

Borobudur Temple in Central Java is one of the tourist sites being considered for Indonesia’s travel corridor programme. Photo: Getty Images

Central to Indonesia’s plan will be vaccine supply, which is expected to fall short this month due to export curbs in producing countries. Shots are currently prioritised for the elderly and frontline workers in Covid-19 hotspots such as Jakarta, but a new directive from President Joko Widodo aimed to include Bali in the list, Uno said.

“We already have close to 60,000 to 70,000 vaccinators ready in Bali. Once we have the supply, the health minister said we can complete the task in two to three months, taking us to mid- or end July” for the reopening, said Uno, who was appointed to his post in December. At least 2 million residents would have to have been vaccinated for the programme to start, he said.

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Batam and Bintan, part of the Riau Islands just south of Singapore, had hoped to start receiving travellers from the city state by April 21, but that would likely be delayed as discussions continue on health protocols, Uno said. The travel lane would be on the agenda in an upcoming meeting between Widodo and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, he added.

Other tourist sites being considered for the travel corridor programme include Yogyakarta, Belitung Island and Lake Toba in Sumatra, Borobudur Temple in Central Java, Labuan Bajo fishing town in eastern Indonesia, and Likupang in Sulawesi, which caters to Chinese tourists. Any decision to reopen more areas would be driven by data on how well infection had been contained, said Uno.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy aims to inoculate as many as 3 million people in Bali and about 70,000 in Batam and Bintan to achieve herd immunity in the islands before they are reopened to foreign visitors. Indonesia has inoculated over 10.6 million people so far, the most in Southeast Asia. This has helped halve the number of new infections to an average of about 5,000 a day in April from nearly 11,000 at the start of the year.

Tanjung Kelayang beach in Belitung Island, Indonesia. Photo: Shutterstock

Tourism contributed over 4 per cent of Indonesia’s GDP in 2017 and accounted for more than 10 per cent of total employment, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The target was for the sector to account for 5 per cent to 6 per cent of GDP this year and gradually increase it to 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2025, Uno said.