Bali reveals plan to get tourists back on the holiday island by May

It was one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations until, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world.

Prior to the outbreak, around 1.2 million of us visited the island each year for beachside holidays and luxurious resort stays on the cheap.

But without the tourists, there have been growing fears on how Bali will survive the global coronavirus pandemic given how much the region relies on global tourism.

In February, even before the impact of coronavirus took hold globally, Indonesia tourist arrivals plunged by a staggering 28.9 per cent – the lowest the region has seen in nearly four years.

RELATED: Australian tourist hotspot suffering amid COVID-19 pandemic

The number of visitors to the island of Bali specifically tumbled by 17.9 per cent to 358,000 visitors. The forecast for March and April is predicted to be even worse for the region.

With 80 per cent of Bali’s market value coming from the travel sector, tourism bosses are trying to remain optimistic about when holiday-makers will be able to book a trip back to the island.

Local news outlet Coconuts reported the Bali Tourism Agency had forecast tourists making a return as early as May from recovered countries such as China.

“The key is no more local transmissions. When we achieve that, not even until June, even May we can start welcoming Chinese tourists,” head of the Tourism Agency in Bali Putu Astawa told local publication Tribun on Thursday.

But shortly after publishing, the statement was clarified by the agency, which insisted that they are focused on handling the COVID-19 pandemic and not bringing back tourists any earlier than what is considered safe.

“Efforts to recover the tourism sector by attracting tourists to Pulau Dewata will only be done once the pandemic comes to an end,” the statement read.

As the numbers continue to grow throughout Indonesia, the government has a battle on its hands to slow the spread and earn back confidence from locals and any future visitors.

In speeches, Indonesia’s health minister, Terawan Agus Putranto, told his country’s people that they shouldn’t fear the virus, even as tens of thousands around the world were being infected.

Rather than focus on creating social distancing guidelines or ramping up testing, Putranto credited Indonesian “immunity” and the strength of prayer for the country’s lack of any infections.

He dismissed a report by Harvard University researchers as “insulting”, after the paper said Indonesia must have elected not to report its cases.

While neighbouring countries like Singapore and here in Australia were quick to address the crisis and take action, Indonesia did not even confirm its first case of the virus until early March.

To date, the nation had reported at least 7135 infections — including 616 deaths. That’s more COVID-19 fatalities than all other Asian counties except China, according to the Associated Press.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo acknowledged last month that the government chose to keep the public misinformed about the state of the coronavirus in the country.

“Indeed, we did not deliver certain information to the public because we did not want to stir panic,” he said.

The apparent lack of transparency caused many locals to seek information on their own about social distancing, with some choosing to take quarantine measures into their own hands.

Suspicion over the lack of cases in Indonesia grew when a Chinese tourist who had travelled to the Indonesia resort island of Bali from Wuhan — the central Chinese city where the pandemic started late last year — tested positive for the coronavirus when he returned to China in early February.

Indonesian authorities played down the event, with Defence Minister Muhammad Mahfud declaring, “The coronavirus does not exist in Indonesia.”

Mr Widodo’s scramble to curb the virus after a late start caused confusion among his government ministers in issuing regulations, said Bivitri Susanti, a law and political analyst from Indonesia’s Jentera School of Law.

“Jokowi was too slow in leading the war against this pandemic crisis,” she said, using the president’s popular nickname. “Instead, he showed his weak leadership.”

Jakarta has become the epicentre of the outbreak in Indonesia, confirming at least 3260 cases as of Tuesday, including 298 deaths, but concerns remains for the popular holiday island of Bali who rely so heavily on tourism dollars to stay afloat.

The government created funding options to raise 1000 trillion rupiah ($A62 billion) to finance a record stimulus package to protect the country’s economy from recession, a hit which has been made harder because of the lack of tourism to the region.

While the Indonesian Government was focused on eliminating the virus before letting foreigners back through the borders, Mr Widodo is confident the pandemic will be resolved by the end of the year and expects tourism to flourish in 2021 as a result.

“Everyone is yearning to go out, people want to enjoy the beauty of tourism and so this is the optimism that we must continue to build on,” he said last week, according Coconuts.

But even if one of our favourite islands is able to reopen later this year, it’s unlikely Australians will be able to visit given our travel bans could last until 2021.

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