The Jakarta Post
The novel coronavirus spread, first reported in China, has started to hit Indonesia’s tourism sector as the country has recorded slower growth in tourist arrivals following bans applied to visitors from China.
Statistics Indonesia (BPS) revealed on Monday that tourist arrivals amounted to 1.27 million in January, around 5.85 percent higher than the 1.20 million recorded in the same month in 2019. However, the growth is much lower than the around 9.5 percent increase in arrivals during January 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.
“The coronavirus impact can only be significantly seen in the last week of [January]. Some countries saw a decline [in tourist arrivals], like China, Malaysia and Singapore, but in total, they still record an increase," said BPS deputy for statistics distribution and service Yunita Rusanti in Jakarta.
"Why is it increasing? Because there was the Chinese New Year [holiday] and tourist arrivals usually increase [during this period],” she added.
The statistics agency data showed that the number of Malaysian tourists fell 10.6 percent year-on-year (yoy) to 206,532 arrivals in January, around 16 percent of the total visits, the highest among other countries of origin.
Chinese tourists trailed behind Malaysians at 181,281 arrivals, a slight rise of 1.46 percent yoy, a far cry compared with the 73 percent annual growth recorded in January 2019.
Indonesia has closed its borders for those traveling to and from China in a bid to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like illness. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on Monday morning the first two COVID-19 positive cases on Indonesia’s soil after a Japanese tourist allegedly spread the virus during a visit to Jakarta.
COVID-19 has infected more than 88,000 people in some 60 countries and killed around 3,000 people.
Indonesia has set a target of welcoming 17 million tourists this year. Last year, a total of 16.1 million tourists visited the country, a far cry from the 2019 target of 18 million.
The BPS also revealed that passengers on international flights increased by 12.13 percent yoy in January to 1.68 million, higher than the 11.27 percent annual growth recorded in the first month of 2019.
Meanwhile, the occupancy rate of star-rated hotels stood at 49.17 percent in January, a decline of 2.3 percentage points compared with the occupancy rate in the same month last year of 51.47 percent.
The average length of stay at star-rated hotels was 1.88 days in January, 0.17 days shorter compared with the same month in 2019.
The government has announced a stimulus package worth Rp 10.3 trillion (US$742 million) to support the country’s economic growth. The package will include aid for staple goods programs and housing loans and payment subsidies for the bottom 30 percent of people in the income bracket to maintain consumer spending.
Consumer spending contributes more than a half of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The government will also grant Rp 3.3 trillion to 33 regional authorities to compensate for tax revenue losses from the tax exemptions given to hotels and restaurants for the next six months, give Rp 298.5 billion in incentives to airlines and travel agents to attract foreign tourists to Indonesia and another Rp 443.39 billion in discounts for domestic tourists visiting 10 tourist destinations.
Indonesia Tourism Intellectuals Association (ICPI) chairman Azril Azahari cast doubts on the fiscal incentives, adding that he would much rather see the government use the funds to improve the current weaknesses in the tourism sector to prepare for 2021’s arrivals and promote quality rather than quantity in tourism.
Indonesia still ranks 80th for security and safety, 98th for tourist service infrastructure, 102nd in health and hygiene and 135th for environmental sustainability, ranking lower than Singapore and Malaysia both in the competitiveness index and the four sub-indexes in the 2019 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
"Under such conditions, no matter what [the government] does to promote tourism through low prices, when the public says no, it's still a no," Azril said.
He also urged the government to remain transparent on the COVID-19 outbreak developments, citing Saudi Arabia's decision to include Indonesia among 23 countries in a temporary ban on all umrah pilgrims as an example of how foreign countries are increasingly wary of the virus spread in Indonesia.