Mardika Parama, Jakarta – Bali's travel agencies association is calling for the island to be reopened to tourists as most of its members only have financial capability to weather the crisis until July. The plea comes following the government's decision to maintain travel restrictions on the tourist-packed island.
The Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA) of Bali expected the government to finish the new normal protocol stipulation by the end of the month and reopen the island to tourists by July to prevent travel companies from collapsing.
"Tour operators haven't earned any income since March and we can only last until July. Therefore, we expect Bali to be open really soon," ASITA Bali secretary I Putu Winastra said during an online discussion held by the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry on June 18.
Putu fears that the collapse of travel agencies would not only cause massive layoffs but also affect the island's economy, as 80 percent of Bali's economy comes from tourism and its related industries. Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport accounts for 63 percent of foreign tourist visits using through air gates, and 38 percent of overall foreign tourist visits in 2019, Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data show.
National COVID-19 task force chief Doni Monardo on June 17 said that both the agency and Bali's local administration agreed not to reopen Bali in the near future, amid the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
"The result of our discussions with several regional leaders, including the Bali governor, was that we have decided not to open Bali yet," Doni said in a hearing with House of Representatives Commission X overseeing tourism.
Bali's provincial administration also recently reported an increasing number of local COVID-19 transmissions on the island, causing the government to ban activities involving large groups of people, including traditional and religious activities.
The island had recorded 1,080 cases as of Monday, ranking 11th in provinces across the archipelago, with nine deaths and 615 recoveries. That compares with 46,845 COVID-19 cases across Indonesia on Monday, with 150 dead and 18,735 recovered.
The Tourism Ministry's director for tourism marketing Vinsensius Jemadu said the government was taking a cautious stance and had set strict standards before deciding to reopen tourist destinations and the country's borders.
"We have to take careful considerations and require strict standards when we try to open our borders. We also require our provinces and islands to pass the requirements [before reopening]," he said.
Even if the government decided to reopen Bali and welcome back tourists, there are still other challenges facing travel agencies on the island, an expert warned.
A tourism expert at Thailand's Thammasat University, Walter Jamieson, said travel agencies must be able to strike a delicate balance between letting their guests experiencing their vacation without fear of COVID-19 infection while also applying a strict protocol to protect them from the virus.
"There's always a tension for travel destinations between appearing too regulated and maintaining safety. People want to have a good time and not think about handwashing and whatnot during a vacation, but we have to follow all health and safety protocols" he said during the discussion.
The government is aiming to create "travel bubbles" with China, South Korea, Japan and Australia to attract travelers and businesspeople, despite COVID-19 infections nationwide showing no signs of slowing down.
The term "travel bubble" or "travel corridor" refers to an agreement in which countries that are successfully containing the outbreak can open their borders to each other to allow free movement within the bubble.
Indonesia recorded its biggest surge in COVID-19 cases with 1,331 new confirmed cases on June 18, according to the Health Ministry, a day after the country officially surpassed Singapore with the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia.