Slow vaccination progress and relentless case numbers mean that Bali will not re-open in September to international tourism. But a reopening may finally be in sight as the tourism-dependent island considers adapting an approach similar to what Phuket, Thailand has used to welcome back visitors.
A New Travel Sandbox In Bali Modeled After Phuket?
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno hinted at the new approach last week:
“We are learning from the Phuket Sandbox with its one focus of significantly reducing local transmissions in Phuket, and this can be applied in Bali later on.”
The Phuket Sandbox represents Thailand’s initial program to relaunch international tourism. Fully vaccinated foreign travelers may enter Thailand via Phuket, but must remain there before traveling to other parts of Thailand. However, within Phuket travelers are allowed to move freely upon the presentation of vaccination proof and negative COVID-19 tests.
But that “later on” caveat is key. Notably, while Bali is exploring the possibility of a Thai-like approach, no concrete plans actually exist at this time.
Thus, those hoping for a return to Bali this month will be disappointed. The final plan to welcome foreigners back to Indonesia may require not only proof of vaccine, but be restricted to a small handful of nations later in 2021, require quarantine, and be limited to Bali.
Bali Reopening Plan Delayed Until At Least September Due To Surge In Cases, Limited Vaccine Progress
Tourism-dependent Bali, Indonesia has been closed to tourism for over a year. Plans to re-open at various stages over the last 11 months were scuttled by new variants of the virus. While managing the COVID-19 pandemic well, Bali faces a difficult proposition: without efficacious mass vaccinations, the economy will continue to suffer.
Bali continues to make progress in its vaccination efforts, but the majority of residents have yet to be fully vaccinated. Bali is targeting a 70% vaccination rate in order to reopen. 71% have now received the first dose, but a recent surge in cases has slowed efforts at fully vaccinating island residents. Indonesia has prioritized Bali in terms of vaccine distribution and secured over four million doses of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, with more to come. Overall, only 11% of Indonesian citizens are fully vaccinated.
Sandiaga Uno, Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy, told Reuters in July:
“We were targeting end of July, beginning of August, but we just have to be mindful of where we are in this recent spike in cases. We will be waiting for the situation to be more conducive.”
Early August and now September passed without opening as Bali experienced a four-fold rise in COVID-19 cases in July, with daily cases now numbering around 150. Uno wants daily cases to drop to between 30-40 before Bali is re-opened.
In March, the governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, laid out plans for a new safe area within Bali that would allow the island to re-open to tourism in lower risk areas. However, the impracticality of closing off certain areas while opening others has redirected the focus to vaccinations and travel bubbles.
In June, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy announced the re-opening of all of Indonesia to tourism in July at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Deputy of Minister for Tourism Marketing Nia Niscaya noted:
“By participating in ATM Dubai 2021, outbound tourism’s leading global event, we are demonstrating that Indonesia is confident of maintaining its position as a world-class destination.”
Destinations including Bali, Bintan, and Batam will serve as “locomotive” regions to jumpstart tourism for the entire nation. However, with the recent rise in cases, such re-opening could be months away.
Importantly, it is not yet clear whether travelers to Indonesia must be vaccinated or simply present a negative COVID-19 test.
As the entire nation reels from a surge in COVID-19 deaths, including a record 2,069 deaths on July 27th, re-opening may be tied to national vaccine progress, not just vaccines within Bali. After peaking in late July, new case numbers are again declining, though the positivity rate remains high.
Bali Travel Corridors
Recently, Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno noted three criterion that Bali is looking for in establishing travel corridors between countries. These countries must:
- contain the spread of the coronavirus
- have high vaccination rates
- offer reciprocal benefits
With Australian borders now closed until at least mid-2022, there is a shifting focus on China. Cok Ace, the Deputy Governor of Bali, noted:
“We can still hope for China, in terms of quantity, as they contributed quite a large amount of visitors in previous years.”
China was right behind Australia in terms of foreign visitors.
The Jakarta Post reported Indonesia has held private talks with the following nations on creating travel corridors:
- United Kingdom
Talks are also ongoing with China, Singapore and South Korea.
Noticeably missing from the list is both Australia and the United States. Even if Indonesia opens borders to citizens of Australia, Australian citizens are currently not permitted to leave Australia without special permission (which is not granted for foreign tourism, except to New Zealand).
My guess is that Bali will re-open to most vaccinated individuals by the end of 2021 as it hits its vaccination targets and case numbers again decline. The idea of a “sandbox” approach in Bali is encouraging and could revitalize the island after more than 18 months of closure. With many sectors of the Indonesian economy dependent upon international tourism, many livelihoods depend upon it. But don’t book just yet…re-opening will not occur until case numbers drop.