Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, Indonesian officials said during recent online forums.
As the country still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the government is not taking the risk to create new clusters with foreign tourist arrivals and to compromise its coronavirus control efforts, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said on Saturday.
“For the time being, we are still evaluating the reopening to foreign tourists,” said Thohir, who also chairs the national committee to accelerate economic recovery and COVID-19 mitigation during an online discussion.
Earlier on Thursday, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said during an online meeting with the country’s business community that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat.
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11.
Bali reopened its tourism spots to locals on the island on July 9 and started welcoming back domestic tourists from other parts of Indonesia on July 31.
According to an analysis issued in June based on the extraction of data location of 208,362 Instagram posts with hashtag #TakeMeBack, travelers revealed that Bali ranked second – with the Giza pyramid complex in Egypt ranked first – as the destination that they missed the most in the absence of traveling during the pandemic.
Dutch online reservation company Booking.com in May placed Bali among the top international destinations alongside Andalusia, Florida, London, and Paris that travelers around the world put on their wish list, based on a survey conducted on its platform in April and March to users grounded by lockdowns and international travel restrictions.
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak.
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.”
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana said.
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said.
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region.
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue.
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers.
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.
On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.
This story has been updated from its original in Arab News