Riza Roidila Mufti, Jakarta – The government has finally called for the suspension of meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (MICE) activities, after previously trying to promote a tourist sector severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said on Tuesday that now the priority was protecting health, safety and lives amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"For the time being, limit activities that promote tourism and the creative economy. [We] also urge tourism and creative economy industry players not to organize meetings, incentives, conventions or exhibitions until the COVID-19 pandemic has been contained in accordance with the government's instructions," Wishnutama said in a press statement.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has urged Indonesians to practice social distancing, or staying far enough away from each other to avoid infection and to slow the spread of the disease, by "working from home, studying from home and worshiping from home".
For those tourist businesses that remain open, Wishnutama urged operators to limit operational hours, numbers of visitors and to implement health checks at entrances.
"One of the ways is by ensuring sanitation by providing access to washing hands using running water and antiseptic soap, providing tissues or masks and disinfecting all facilities. Apart from those, provide body temperature thermometers," the minister said.
Wishnutama appreciated the fast response taken by several regional governments and industry players who had decided to cancel or postpone activities or events. "We urge the public not to travel if not necessary, except for urgent needs, to implement social distancing, maintain hygiene and implement a healthy lifestyle," he added.
In the meantime, he said, businesses needed to actively participate in fighting the COVID-19 spread and the ministry would take advantage of downtime to plan strategies to promote tourism to benefit the people and national economy after recovery.
Wishnutama's message was a change of tone from earlier messages that the government would provide a fiscal stimulus to promote tourism, as part of the first Rp 10.2 trillion (US$671.8 million) stimulus package.
The government has canceled all promotional plans, including channeling funds to influencers and promotions to attract foreign tourists, and instead will focus on providing tax breaks to tourism players as unveiled during the second stimulus package.
COVID-19 has hit hard the tourist and creative economy sectors. Chairman of the Indonesia Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) Hariyadi B. Sukamdani previously said Indonesian tourism had suffered losses of at least $1.5 billion since January as cancelations hit the industry, especially hotels, amid growing fears over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
"The losses are growing as people prefer to stay at home rather than going on vacation," Hariyadi, who also chairs the Indonesia Employer's Association (Apindo), said in Jakarta on March 12.
Occupancy rates at some hotels have dropped as low as 20 percent, according to the PHRI. Bali, Jakarta, Manado in North Sulawesi and Batam and Bintan in Riau Islands are currently the worst-hit areas.