The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Trikora Beach in Bintan Island, Riau Islands. (Shutterstock/Fakhri Anindita)
After 26 years, the popular getaway Bintan Lagoon Resort is bidding visitors a final goodbye, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on global travel and tourism.
Mr Buralimar, head of the Bintan Tourism Office, said declining visitor numbers and tourism receipts were behind the demise of the 450-room, five-star resort.
A July 31 report filed with the Bintan Regency Manpower Office showed that 500 employees of the resort have been laid off.
The resort is about a 60-minute ferry ride from Singapore, in Lagoi on Bintan Island, which is part of Indonesia's Riau archipelago.
While the resort is shuttering for the last time, Mr Buralimar told The Straits Times on Aug. 12 that the rest of the resorts and hotels in the Lagoi area remain in operation serving domestic tourists.
There are about 10 such establishments, largely in the north of the island.
Mr Buralimar, who goes by a single name, said: "There are no plans to rehire or redeploy the 500 workers who were laid off.
"For now, the rest of the hotels cater to domestic tourists from Indonesia.
"Perhaps, Bintan Lagoon Resort was suffering from having too many employees."
The island boasts golf courses, nature trails and entertainment outlets, many connected to the different resorts.
International events like the Bintan Ironman, Bintan Triathlon and Tour de Bintan have been postponed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tour de Bintan, a cycling event, usually sees more than 1,500 international participants and twice the number of visitors to the island, said Mr Buralimar.
From Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal, visitors to the island take a short drive to their hotels, after clearing security checkpoints.
However, the ferry terminal, accustomed to a large inflow of tourists, has gone silent due to travel restrictions to Indonesia.
The Jakarta Post reported last month that the pandemic has wiped out close to US$6 billion ($8.2 billion) of Indonesia's tourism revenue so far this year, while more than 95 per cent of workers in the tourism sector have been furloughed without pay.
Mr Buralimar said Singaporeans make up more than 50 per cent of visitors to the islands of Bintan and Batam, followed by Malaysians and Chinese tourists.
Without visitors, Bintan's tourism industry has taken a beating.
"To date, roughly 14,000 employees have been told to stop work as hotels scale down on manpower," added Mr Buralimar. "We are helping some of those retrenched with rice and other food items. About 8,000 of them have received the one-time help."
While the outlook may seem dire, he is hopeful that tourists would return to the island soon.
He said the authorities take safety and health protocols for COVID-19 as top priorities.
"Our resorts in Lagoi are isolated from the general population in Bintan," said Mr Buralimar.
"By following international health measures and guidelines, the likelihood of infection is low. These resorts also have their own ferry terminals, separate from the ones used by the general population."
Still, the authorities in Bintan are not rushing to open its resorts to international visitors as it awaits the result of discussions between the Singapore and Indonesian governments.
"Our position is the same as Singapore - we consult our government agencies and depend on their findings," said Mr Buralimar.
"If there's a lesson here, we need each other. Our livelihoods are all tied."
The Straits Times has reached out to Bintan Lagoon Resort for comments.
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