Bali Reopened to Foreign Visitors. It Got Only Two in the First Month
Wayan Sentiani is 36 and earns barely one tenth as much from selling tees and sarongs in Kuta. In just a decade she could make as much as 2 million rupees ($140) per day, mostly from European and Chinese shoppers.
“Yesterday, I opened the shop from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and only sold a piece worth 75,000 rupiah. Most of our days here go by like that,” Sentiani said. “I really hope the foreign tourists will come back soon.”
Bali is still far away from the days when it was full of tourists, packed restaurants, and bustling beaches. There were only two visitors to Bali in October 2019, compared to half-a million for the same month 2019. And, since then, no international direct flight has ever landed.
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Hopes for the return of tourists are being eroded by the island’s restrictive quarantine measures and fears of a fresh virus outbreak. This year-end holiday season will serve as a key trial for Bali — if the current curbs can keep the virus under control, the government might ease curbs further to let its tourism sector rebound faster.
“We are like sailing between two reefs: health and economy,” said I Gusti Agung Ngurah Rai Suryawijaya, deputy chairman of the island’s chapter of Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association.
COVID’s economic toll on Bali
Bali entry is much more complicated than the other beaches in the region. International travelers must have a sponsor and be in quarantine for at most 10 days before applying for a visa. That’s a stark contrast to places like Thailand’s Phuket and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc that let inoculated visitors from some countries enter without quarantine.
Indonesia is a country that should be particularly concerned about the possibility of another outbreak. It battled one of the world’s worst outbreaks after the Eid al-Fitr holiday in the middle of the year, leading to the death of more than 140,000 people. The country’s vaccination program has also fallen behind its neighbors with less than 40% of people fully inoculated, rendering it more fragile to another resurgence.
Bali’s economy bears the brunt of that vigilance as it shrank 9.3% in 2020, the worst among all of Indonesia’s provinces. The country’s gross domestic products fell by 3.4% over the first nine months.
Bali’s tourism industry waits for a rebound
PT Bukit Uluwatu Villa runs several luxury resorts located on the island. This means that there will be no expansion until signs of economic revival. The average occupancy at its Alila resorts (including one on top of the Indian Ocean) was 13%, compared to 73% in 2019.
With the rate likely to rise only to 30% next year, the company isn’t planning on hiring new workers either, said Corporate Secretary Benita Sofia.
Bali’s hotels and restaurants are pinning their hopes on the upcoming G20 meetings to bring in more visitors, with government officials extolling the island’s features in their speeches and inviting people to attend side events.
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Bookings online for hotels are a sign of better times ahead. According to YipitData, market research firm YipitData, the bookings for the week ended Dec. 5 were 57% less than those in 2019. This is a significant improvement over August’s 80%.
That’s barely enough to keep Made Yogi Anantawijaya’s transport business afloat. In order to co-found the business with his brother Made Yogi Anantawijaya, he left his post as finance minister official 10 years ago. But the pandemic caused him to have to restructure loans, cut workers, and dispose of many buses and vehicles to make it work. Orders are now starting to come in, mostly from domestic travellers.
“Foreign tourists are still zero,” said Yogi, 38. “What keeps us alive are the local tourists now.”
—Claire Jiao and Arys Aitya with assistance