Bali is back … but there are no international flights

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The holiday island of Bali has reopened to foreign tourists after an 18-month pandemic hiatus, but a crucial ingredient is missing: international flights.

Although its Ngurah Rai International Airport has carried out simulations in preparation for the return of tourists, it doesn’t expect much anytime soon.

“So far there is no timetable,” said Taufan Yudhistira, spokesperson for the airport.

Indonesia’s strict immigration measures during the pandemic devastated the tourism-dependent island, with widespread closures of hotels, shops and businesses.

The government is eager to revive Bali’s beleaguered tourism industry in response to a sharp drop in new coronavirus cases since July, when Indonesia was the epicenter of COVID-19 in Asia.

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But details on the reopening, such as visa requirements and the countries to which they apply, have so far been patchy.

Indonesia only confirmed the 19 eligible countries in a statement Wednesday evening. They include China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand, as well as several countries in Western Europe and the Gulf. Australia was not on the list.

The move follows Thailand’s calibrated reopening that began in July with great fanfare, with the islands of Samui and Phuket welcoming vaccinated tourists from several countries.

Vietnam plans to welcome foreigners to its island of Phu Quoc next month.

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But some representatives of the Indonesian tourism industry say the plan to reopen Bali does not match demand.

I Putu Astawa of the Bali Tourism Agency said hotel reservations are scarce.

“Not yet, because the timing is so sudden,” he said, when asked about an increase in bookings. “They need time to deal with visas and flights.”

In addition to demanding that visitors to Bali be vaccinated against COVID, Indonesia has stipulated that they must spend their first five days in quarantine, a measure that rival tourist markets are gradually disappearing.

“We are ready to accept tourists who visit Bali, but that certainly does not mean that all the guests suddenly visit Bali,” said Ida Bagus Purwa Sidemen, executive director of the island’s hotels and restaurants association.

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“At the earliest, by the end of the year, we can assess whether the situation has improved.”

In a video posted to the President’s Secretariat’s YouTube channel to mark the reopening on Thursday, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster said boosting tourism was essential for the island.

“It is very much in our interest that tourism picks up because 54% of Bali’s economy is based on the tourism sector,” he said.

-AAP

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