The Jakarta Post
The government’s plan to gradually reopen the economy in June has led to more intense discussions on jumpstarting the tourist industry and creative economy. The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry has expressed plans to support the immediate reopening of various sectors, while brainstorming “new normal” standards for them.
Many businesses related to tourism have closed, laying off 1.4 million employees while others have furloughed staff in the two months since physical distancing and stay-at-home measures were put in place. Foreign visitor arrivals plunged 64 percent year-on-year in March to a level unseen in a decade.
This is a severe blow to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, which had pledged to boost tourism’s 5 percent contribution to gross domestic product. The government’s master plan focuses on developing super-priority tourist destinations by building infrastructure and establishing special economic zones.
The government has taken prompt action to ease the burdens of the tourist industry. By exempting individual income taxes, deferring import taxes and discounting corporate tax receipts by 30 percent, the shock of COVID-19 could be softened for industry players.
The tourism sector indeed needs support more than ever as it has become the hardest-hit sector. The government is set to provide a Rp 25 trillion (US$1.68 billion) stimulus package including airfare and hotel discounts to speed up the recovery of the travel industry.
Countries around the world that have lifted various forms of lockdowns or social restrictions are finding ways to promote safe travel that follows strict health protocols.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization issued a set of comprehensive measures to help all governments to reopen tourism in a safe, seamless and responsible manner. The set of measures was built on knowledge and input from public and private sectors and several United Nations agencies.
However, people’s appetite for travel will remain low amid the lingering pandemic and travel limitations everywhere. Australians, among Indonesia’s top foreign tourists, will be allowed to travel to countries considered “safe” as of Sept. 10, according to a timetable produced by the Australian Tourism Restart Taskforce.
The Indonesian government should firmly establish, promote and enforce internationally accepted guidelines, including elaborate health protocols, in all components of the tourist industry — from airlines and car rentals to tour operators, restaurants, airport terminals and hotels. This must be achieved prior to reopening tourism. Otherwise, foreign tourists will not come to Indonesia.
For the time being, the country needs to set its focus on jacking up healthcare capacity, helping the sick and flattening the curve to gain trust from travelers and the international community in general. Reopening too soon may increase risks for further infection, thereby prolonging economic recovery. With confirmed daily COVID-19 cases yet to go down significantly, the stakes are too high.
Preparing more stimulus packages for the tourist industry, speeding up disbursement and brainstorming ways to reboot the tourism economy, once it’s safe to open, need to be intensified. Save tourism first, safe travel later.