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Jakarta Post

Fears over virus cast shadow on plan to restart tourism

  • Riza Roidila Mufti 

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, June 14, 2020   /   10:12 am
Fears over virus cast shadow on plan to restart tourism Two men sit under a sign announcing the temporary closure of Jimbaran Beach because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Badung, Bali, on April 1. Fears of virus transmission have cast a shadow on the government’s plan to reopen tourist destinations across Indonesia. (Antara/Fikri Yusuf)

Fears over virus transmission have cast a shadow on the government’s plan to reopen tourist destinations across Indonesia, especially as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb despite the authorities’ health protocols for the so-called new normal.

The head of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies Association (Asita) in Bali, I Ketut Ardana, said on June 2 that the tourist industry on the resort island was still vigilant, since local transmission of the coronavirus was still happening. The government should carefully decide on whether or not to reopen tourist destinations.

“If we take the wrong step, the impact can be severe for Bali,” he said. “That is why we must be really careful [in making the decision] and wait until the situation has improved.”

Bali has recorded 695 positive COVID-19 cases as of Friday afternoon, with five deaths and 448 recoveries. The figure is relatively small compared to more than 36,400 cases and 2,048 fatalities nationwide.

However, the Bali provincial administration has reported an increasing number of local coronavirus transmissions recently, particularly in the four regencies of Badung, Denpasar, Klungkung and Tabanan.

“If the virus transmission curve were flattening, we may be prepared for reopening. Right now, however, local transmission is still happening, and of course that is one of our considerations,” Ketut said, adding that visitors’ trust in Bali’s safety was key for a recovery in the industry.

Asita Bali has drafted health and hygiene protocols that will be applied by its members in the new normal.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo called on the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry in late May to prepare “special strategies” to revive domestic tourism in regions safe from COVID-19 for the transition to the new normal.

However, he asked the ministry not to rush to open tourist areas, urging it to gradually identify areas that were ready based on COVID-19 basic reproduction rates.

Tourism is one of many sectors severely battered by the outbreak, as people stay at home to contain the virus spread. Foreign tourist arrivals dropped 87.44 percent year-on-year (yoy) to 160,000 in April, the lowest in recent history, as countries around the world have imposed different degrees of lockdowns or physical distancing measures.

Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said his ministry had prepared standard operating procedures (SOPs) for various segments within the tourist industry and the creative economy and was “synchronizing the plan with other ministries, institutions and task forces.” No exact date for reopening has been announced until the time of writing.

“We are still focused on handling COVID-19,” Bali Tourism Agency head I Putu Astawa told The Jakarta Post on June 4.

“Reopening Bali’s tourism will depend on the development of the pandemic,” he said, adding that the reopening would be done gradually and selectively.

Similarly, the Southeast Maluku in Maluku province is aware that reopening tourism too soon could increase the risk of virus transmission in the regency, which has so far maintained a “green zone” status for COVID-19 and intends to keep it that way. The regency is known for its white sand beaches and Kei Islands.

“For the time being, I still can’t imagine seeing tourists from outside our region come to our area,” said Regent M. Thaher Hanubun on June 4. “Perhaps, if tourism is reopened, we will limit the visits to local people within the regency first, because for now, opening the airport and seaport still entails a high risk.”

The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry’s COVID-19 Task Force spokesperson, Ari Juliano, said on June 1 that the ministry was preparing the tourism SOPs, so they could be implemented when the country reopens. The protocols require all stakeholders to enforce social distancing, to make sure people wear masks and wash their hands frequently and to avoid the formation of crowds.

While waiting for the government’s decision and the SOP for the reopening, regional administrations and associations have worked on initiatives to improve their readiness to embrace the new normal.

Banyuwangi in East Java, for instance, had verified and certified all restaurants, hotels and homestays in the regency to ensure they comply with cleanliness and hygiene standards, said Banyuwangi Tourism Agency head Yanuar Bramuda on June 3. 

Bali is also preparing its new normal protocols by lowering the capacity of tourists by up to 50 percent and delaying the reopening of nightclubs, among other things. Meanwhile, the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) has issued an SOP on health and hygiene to all its members.  

“The [decision] to reopen tourism must come with risk mitigation and prudent considerations for each destination,” said Muhammad Baiquni, a tourism expert from Gadjah Mada University, on June 3.

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Travel Agents Association (Astindo), Elly Hutabarat, said the reopening required discipline in obeying health protocol.

“Strict supervision at the destinations’ main entrances, such as airports, will be key for the tourist industry during the new normal to minimize the virus risk,” she said.