Bali Reopening October 2021: The Race to Restart Tourism

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On October, Bali is due to reopen to travelers from several countries including China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates.

Visitors will be required to follow certain regulations – they need to be fully vaccinated and take two PCR tests, both before their flight and on arrival. They will also need to quarantine. Initially, officials said people must do so for eight days on arrival, but a last-minute announcement this week reduced the requirement to five days.

Bali, Indonesia’s main tourism hotspot, drew more than 6 million travelers in 2019. But since the start of the pandemic, the streets in Ubud, which would normally be filled with tourists, have been empty. Many businesses are closed, and the area is peppered with “for rent” signs. The plan to partially reopen Bali is a first step towards reviving the tourism industry, which contributes more than 50% of the island’s income, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

The pandemic has prompted a debate about the role of tourism in Bali, with some arguing the island should become less dependent on the sector and instead develop other areas of the economy. Reports of foreign tourists who remained on the island during the pandemic but refused to follow health protocols has added to such sentiments. This week, Bali’s governor said that tourism had benefited “a handful of people, especially foreign investors”, but not the general public. He said he instead planned to promote areas such as cultural crafts, agriculture and fisheries.

Government officials have spoken of the need to alter the tourism sector to focus on attracting “quality” tourists. Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, said last month that the authorities would “filter” tourists. “We do not want backpackers,” he said. In a similar note, Bali Tourism Agency head I Putu Astawa says the island is hoping to receive travellers who will spend more money, stay longer and have a better attitude.

He was pointing to foreigners who have not complied with Covid guidelines, who have abused their tourist visas by working illegally, or broken the law in other ways. “Those are parasites that we need to put in order and keep an eye on,” Putu Astawa said. Bali has fully vaccinated 80% of the eligible population, according to president Joko Widodo – ahead of muchof the country. Cases have fallen from a peak of about 1,000 a day in July. On Monday, there were 37 new cases and seven deaths.

Many residents who work in tourism say they aren’t expecting a boost in business any time soon. Some worry that few tourists will want to undergo quarantine. Others fear the government strategy, which seems to focus on attracting the wealthiest visitors, will only benefit certain types of businesses. “What about smaller businesses such as homestays? Who’s going to stay there?” said Kadek Kerta Rusmana Yasa, 33. He used to work as a resort manager in Ubud and, at one point, could make 10m rupiah ($700) a month. As the pandemic hit the island, the resort eventually closed for business and he began to work as a moto-taxi driver for ride-hailing firm Grab. He is married with two children, including a baby born during the pandemic, but now can only make about 50,000 rupiah ($3.50) a day. The minimum wage in Bali in 2021 is about 2.5m rupiah ($175) a month.

“Travelers from middle classes will find it difficult to afford quarantines,” Yasa said. “Many foreigners who come here for honeymoons are not exactly rich people. In fact, rich people rarely tipped – based on my experience.” Yasa hopes the government will stop referring to “quality tourists” altogether. “Those with more money can also do crime and disrespect the island. What’s more important is the law enforcement,” he added.

Well, what is your opinion on this matter? Do you think Bali is ready to reopen its gate, or should it wait a little longer? Would you feel safe having foreigners in the island during this time? Tell us in the comment, and see you on our next article. Stay safe, stay healthy!