Fadli, Batam, Riau Islands – The first group of Singaporean tourists arrived in Batam, Riau Islands province, under a travel bubble deal on Wednesday, nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic closed international borders.
The cities of Batam and Bintan have been hard at work in preparation for the revival of their tourism industry, just under a month after Indonesia introduced plans to reopen borders to fully vaccinated tourists from Singapore under a unilateral travel bubble arrangement.
As many as 28 Singaporean nationals arrived by ferry at Nongsapura Port in Batam's north and were greeted by Riau Islands governor Ansar Ahmad as they waited for the results of their COVID-19 swab tests.
"This is just the first phase of the plan, and we'll continue to review the latest developments. But it's really something to celebrate after nearly two years of disruptions," Ansar told reporters at the docks.
A separate welcoming event is planned for Thursday for 150 Singaporean nationals arriving in Bintan. There to welcome the holidaymakers will be Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore Suryopratomo.
Under the arrangement, fully vaccinated foreign tourists must undergo testing upon arrival before proceeding directly to their accommodation, which lies within the designated Nongsa vacation area.
"They will be chaperoned and asked to remain within Nongsa," said Buralimar, the head of the Riau Islands Tourism Agency, at the welcome event.
Tourists are allowed to enter the travel bubble area – but nowhere else – without mandatory quarantine, so long as they meet certain criteria, including having health insurance coverage of at least S$30,000 (US$22,284).
Singaporean travelers can only enter through Nongsapura Port in Batam and Bandar Bentan Telani Port in Bintan.
The governor said the first batch of arrivals marked the revival of the province's tourism industry, which has faced severe headwinds amid pandemic border closures."After the success of the travel bubble, we are hoping it will lead to the establishment of a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) not unlike the one in Singapore."
Singapore accounted for the second-largest number of visitors to Indonesia in 2019, after Malaysia. Last year, however, it ranked seventh, as the city-state imposed strict travel curbs.
The neighboring country has yet to reciprocate Indonesia's tourism initiatives in full, according to Buralimar. He said there was a set quota to transport 500 people into Batam per week, whereas Singapore only allowed 350 people per week for the return journey.
"We've asked for a fairer adjustment. Otherwise, the amount of tourists going one way will be more than those heading in the other direction," he said, adding that people wishing to return to Singapore would need to stay two or three nights longer if the quota was exceeded.