Riza Roidila Mufti and Adrian Wail Akhlas, Jakarta – Indonesia recorded a slight monthly increase in foreign tourist visits in May after a sharp drop in the previous months but experts and officials warn that tourism is still far from experiencing a recovery as the COVID-19 outbreak shows little sign of abating.
Statistics Indonesia (BPS) announced Wednesday that Indonesia had recorded 163,646 foreign tourist arrivals in May, a 3.1 percent increase from 158,718 in April. May's arrivals were dominated by visitors from Timor Leste and Malaysia.
Despite the slight monthly increase, May's figures were still down 86.9 percent from the 1.24 million visitors welcomed in the same period last year. From January to May, Indonesia recorded just 2.9 million foreign tourist visits, a 53.56 percent drop from the same period last year.
"Decreasing [visits] were recorded at almost all points of entry," BPS head Suhariyanto told a virtual press briefing. "Annual arrival figures at major airports, such as Ngurah Rai [in Denpasar, Bali], Soekarno-Hatta [in Tangerang, Banten] and Juanda [in Surabaya, East Java] international airports, have dropped almost 100 percent."
Increases in arrivals were recorded at only several points of entry, such as Batam, Riau Island, which has become a major point of entry for visitors from Malaysia and Singapore.
"If we look at the overall figure, we can see that tourism is still being severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has prepared a strategy to revive tourism, but the recovery will take time because we don't know when the COVID-19 crisis will end," Suhariyanto said.
Tourism has been one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with many tourist destinations empty since March, as countries around the world imposed travel restrictions and the implementation of large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in Indonesia forced people to stay at home.
Hotels across Indonesia have also recorded prolonged low occupancy rates. BPS' data show the average occupancy rate of star hotels in May was only 14.45 percent.
Hotels on the resort island of Bali recorded the lowest occupancy rates of 2.07 percent in May, while occupancy rates of hotels in Yogyakarta stood at just 6.13 percent.
"A slight increase in a month is not significant and does not indicate a trend because it may be only an incidental increase," Indonesia Tourism Intellectuals Association (ICPI) expert Azril Azahari said on Wednesday, adding that May's figure might also include business trips.
"An increase of 20 percent sustained over several months might indicate a recovery," he stated, adding that the recovery would depend on how the country handled the health crisis.
"As long as the virus is still present and Indonesia continues to record consistent daily increases [in new cases], it will continue to be a challenging time for tourism," he said. He forecast that tourism may not see a recovery until 2021.
The government issued on June 19 a decree on health guidelines for public facilities, including hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, fitness centers, convention halls, tourist destinations and public transportation, as it gears up to reopen the economy in the so-called new normal.
The measures are intended to provide peace of mind as some tourist destinations start to reopen.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said in an official statement on Monday that the protocols should be implemented carefully so the reopening does not lead to a spike in new cases.
"Tourism is a business that is very dependent on the trust of domestic and international tourists," he said.
"Protocols can be improved quickly, but rebuilding trust among tourists takes a long time. Thus, strict supervision is needed in the implementation of health protocols," Wishnutama added.