DENPASAR (Bali) – Mr Ide Bagus Sidharta Putra had hoped his beachfront hotel Griya Santrian in Sanur, Bali put the Covid-19 days of empty restaurants and meager reservations behind him.
It was not to be.
Six weeks after Bali airport was cleared to accept international flights, not a single plane from outside Indonesia has landed, due to stringent visa requirements for foreigners who include the need for a guarantor and rules requiring international arrivals to quarantine for three days, even if they are fully vaccinated. .
Now, even as other tourism hot spots like Phuket in Thailand are showing signs of recovery, Christmas in Bali looks a lot like last year, and business owners like Mr. Sidharta are at their wit’s end.
âHow long can we survive? He said in an interview with The Straits Times in the restaurant of his empty hotel.
Business leaders are frustrated that authorities have not followed through on plans to reopen the island’s tourist economy, which have contributed US $ 10 billion (S $ 13.7 billion) in the country in 2019.
On three occasions since September, President Joko Widodo’s government has promised to reopen, prompting some businesses to dip into their savings or go into debt to stock up on food or hire staff, only to see efforts fail after the government canceled plans.
Now even domestic arrivals at Bali airport in the year through October are down by one-fifth from the same period last year, due to closures in July and August to stem the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
About 30% of Griya Santrian’s rooms are occupied, which is less than half of the occupancy rate at this time of year before the pandemic, Mr Sidartha said.
“We have done everything the government asked for,” he said. “We are desperate. People cannot cope.”
Of course, tourism throughout the region is only a shadow of itself.
In Thailand, which allows fully vaccinated travelers to roam the island of Phuket for seven days in quarantine, arrivals amounted to just over 106,000, up from 40 million in 2019.
Immunization rates in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines are below the global average of 40%. This slower pace will mean the region lags behind Singapore in opening borders to fully quarantined travelers, said Peter Mumford, analyst at Eurasia Group, a business risk consultancy.
Still, reopening non-quarantine travel between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur this month will be a big step towards kick-starting tourism in the region and its neighbors, which account for the bulk of tourism in Asean. Singapore accounts for nearly 40 percent of foreign arrivals in Malaysia and 13 percent in Indonesia.
âWhat places like Thailand and the rest of Asean really need is the opening up of shorter-term intra-Asian travel,â Mumford told ST.
“Most people are more willing to take a kick, say, for a two-day trip to KL than to fly from Europe to Asia for a two-week vacation.”
The problem is, the longer the Indonesian authorities wait to reopen Bali to mass tourism, the harder it will be for the industry to develop. Nearly 70 hotels have gone bankrupt, according to data from the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association.
Nightclub and hotel owner Gede Wiratha, whose properties include upscale beachfront club Ku De Ta, said he was concerned his best workers had gone to work overseas, creating their own business or retire.
“My workers with 30 years of experience, who know foreigners and know what a BLT is, are gone,” he told ST.
“We are losing our best people and businesses are closing. I’m afraid what will happen if we don’t reopen soon.”