DENPASAR: Indonesia's holiday island of Bali reopened to foreign tourists after 18 months of pandemic hiatus on Thursday (Oct 14), but the island is lacking one crucial ingredient: International flights.
Tourism-reliant Bali is scheduled to reopen on Thursday and though its Ngurah Rai international airport has carried out simulations preparing for tourists to return, it is not expecting much to happen soon.
"So far there is no schedule," said Taufan Yudhistira, a spokesman for the airport.
Known for its surfing, temples, waterfalls and nightlife, Bali drew 6.2 million foreign visitors in the year before COVID-19 struck, but tight pandemic border restrictions have devastated tourism, which is worth 54 per cent of its economy.
From January to June this year, only 35 foreign tourists entered Bali through its airport.
In downtown Kuta, just off its famous beach, shops and bars were open on Thursday but with only a few customers, while taxi drivers waited outside.
"We're really destitute," said driver Yohanan, 52, waiting on the curb. "We're hoping tourists can come here, but not one has."
The government's preparations could be the reason.
Details about the reopening have been patchy and Indonesia only identified 19 eligible countries late on Wednesday. Those include China, India, Japan, South Korea and several European and Gulf countries.
The move follows Thailand's calibrated reopening that began in July with much fanfare, with the islands of Samui and Phuket welcoming vaccinated tourists from multiple countries, with hundreds on the opening days.
Vietnam plans to welcome foreigners to its Phu Quoc island next month.
But some Indonesian tourism industry representatives say Bali's reopening plan is not matched by demand.
I Putu Astawa from the Bali tourism agency said hotel reservations were few.
"Not yet because the timing is so sudden," he said, when asked about a spike in bookings. "They need time to take care of visas and flights."
As well as requiring Bali visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Indonesia has stipulated they must spend their first five days in quarantine, a measure rival tourism markets are phasing out.
"We are ready to accept tourists who visit Bali, but certainly it does not mean all the guests suddenly visit Bali," said Ida Bagus Purwa Sidemen, executive director of the island's hotel and restaurant association.
"At the earliest, by the end of the year, we can evaluate whether the situation has improved."
In a video released on the president secretariat’s YouTube channel to mark the reopening on Thursday, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster said reviving tourism was essential for the island.
"It is very much in our interest for tourism to recover because 54 per cent of Bali's economy relies on tourism sector," he said.