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Jakarta Post

Vaccine hopes make tourism players optimistic about next year

  • Mardika Parama

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, November 27, 2020   /   03:21 pm
Vaccine hopes make tourism players optimistic about next year An Indonesian health official checks the body temperature of a foreign tourist arriving from Bali and heading to the tourist islet of Gili Trawangan at Bangsal Port in Pemenang, Lombok, on February 12. (AFP/Moh El Sasaky )

Tourism players are projecting a rebound of the pandemic-battered travel sector next year amid reports on successful trials of vaccines that are hoped to boost travel confidence among the general public.

Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) chairman Hariyadi Sukamdani on Wednesday said that foreign tourist arrivals were projected at 13 million to 14 million in 2021.

For comparison, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry expects only 2.8 million to 4 million foreign visitors this year, well below the government’s initial target of 18 million. The forecast for 2021 is still lower than last year’s recorded 16.1 million foreign visitors.

“We assume [a rebound] when [mass] vaccination is conducted. If it is conducted from January to March, then tourists will start travelling after the three months,” he said during an online discussion held by news agency Beritasatu. “What should be noted for the inbound tourists to Indonesia is they need vaccines.”

Tourism is one of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic as people canceled travel plans amid virus concerns and border closures.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo previously said that the government planned to carry out a mass vaccination program late this year or early next year. However, the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) has said it will not authorize the emergency use of a COVID-19 candidate vaccine in December because of a lack of data on its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS), the number of foreign tourists arriving from January to September slumped by 70.57 percent year-on-year (yoy) to 3.56 million visitors.

The PHRI has estimated that the global health crisis has cost the tourist industry more than Rp 100 trillion (US$7.1 billion) in potential revenue as of November.

As many as 550,000 hotel employees, or around 78.5 percent of the total registered workers in the industry, have been furloughed or laid off, PHRI data show.

Read also: Tourism recovery still long way off despite slight increase in visitors in May: Experts

However, the PHRI also expected domestic tourist visits to reach around 240 million next year, down from 275 million in 2019.

In the aviation sector, national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia service, business development and information technology director Ade R. Susardi said the number of passengers had been steadily increasing over the months since the pandemic began.

“The passenger number is improving over time, even though it’s still way below the normal level of around 60,000 to 80,000 passengers per day,” he said during the discussion.

Garuda flew 17,000 passengers on Wednesday, the highest number since the huge drop in May when the government banned the Idul Fitri exodus, the company’s data show.

Wednesday’s figure was higher than the average 14,000 daily passengers flown in September this year and August’s daily average of 9,000 passengers, Ade said.

 “Thankfully, we are supported by the domestic market, where [demand] is enough to provide cash flow for our operation. We are in a better state than [other] airlines focused on international routes,” he said.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also put pressure on domestic travel demand this year, with only 23.5 million passengers flying as of September, or 58.33 percent fewer than over the same period last year, BPS data show. Meanwhile, the number of foreign air passengers in the same period plummeted 74.54 percent yoy to 3.5 million people.

As for 2021, Ade said, Garuda expected daily passenger numbers to reach up to 60 percent of the airline’s prepandemic level.

Meanwhile, the daily flight number is also expected to reach 60 percent of the 2019 level, or around up to 300 flights per day.

Furthermore, Ade said, 75,000 tickets had been booked for the end-of-year holiday season, which runs from Dec. 19 to Jan. 10, despite President Jokowi's call for an evaluation of year-end collective leave, cutting the 2020 year-end holiday short to curb virus transmission.

“We also expect bookings to double [later in the year] as Indonesian travelers frequently book their flights at short notice,” he said.

Budijanto Tirtawisata, the president director of publicly listed tour and travel company Panorama Sentrawisata, said the decision to cut the year-end holidays would not greatly affect the number of travelers, as most people had already booked their travel when agents and hotels dropped their prices.

The government has rolled out Rp 2.4 trillion worth of discounts for Indonesian nationals traveling between October and December this year as part of the incentives to spur a rebound in travel demand.

“Those who have already asked for leave from their companies won’t change their plans, and the public’s longing to go on a holiday is going through the roof,” he said.

However, Budijanto said, the key to an optimal recovery was still vaccination, which would boost public confidence in traveling.

“We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We only need to convince travelers of their safety to maximize the rebound,” Budijanto said during the discussion.