Hey Indo! –

Indonesia is prioritizing COVID-19 control over tourism in the short term by continuing with tougher quarantine rules than many of its neighbors, a senior minister told Nikkei Asia, especially as the country gears up to chair the Group of 20 nations and host a series of meetings starting in December — mainly in Bali.

Sandiaga Uno, the minister of tourism and the creative economy, said in an online interview on Saturday that it is “prudent” for Indonesia to keep imposing tight quarantine regulations, particularly as concerns swirl around the world over the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“The G-20 summit in Bali will attract close to 7,000 delegates,” Uno said, referring to the group’s main annual gathering, which is scheduled for November next year. “We don’t want to risk this event [by] rushing to remove quarantine [rules] … It is not a competition to open faster or sooner — it’s the handling of the COVID situation that takes priority [for us].”

The pandemic has hit hard in tourism-dependent islands such as Bali, with workers in the sector taking aim at strict quarantine requirements. Even before the imposition of tighter border control measures on Monday in anticipation of the new variant, Indonesia was still demanding international visitors, vaccinated or not, to quarantine for three days, whereas Thai resorts such as Phuket had already introduced a zero-quarantine policy for inoculated tourists.

Uno said the government was watching omicron variant developments “very closely” as it “want[s] to make sure that our domestic market will not get hit by this new variant.” Government ministers remain mindful of what happened during the summer, when delta variant cases surged, significantly hampering not only tourism but the broader economy.

Indonesia welcomed 16 million foreign visitors in pre-pandemic 2019, but that dwindled to just 4 million last year due to COVID-19-induced travel restrictions. That slump has continued in 2021, with only 1.1 million foreign visitors entering in the nine months that ended in September — down 67% from the same period the year before.

Despite Bali reopening to foreign tourists in mid-October, few overseas visitors have arrived as there are no direct international flights to the island.

“We just have to ask people in the industry to be patient, to make sure that when we reopen and when we resume international travel we are ready in terms of our policy response and … to handle potential new waves of COVID, as well as new variants,” the minister said. “We want to make sure that the reopening of Bali … [will] also take into account some of the risk health experts [warn of]. So epidemiological trends and adjustments will continue. The president has been crystal clear in saying that we need to … be on the same frequency to signal to the world that our first and foremost priority is handling the COVID situations.”

Uno said that because of uncertainty over the coronavirus situation around the globe, the country only expects around 1.8 million to 3.6 million foreign visitors next year. Even in 2024, when many hope the world will have returned to a sense of normality, the target is now 9.5 million to 14.3 million — a marked downturn from the 25 million to 28 million the ministry was touting before the pandemic.

Uno was a high-profile businessman before entering politics — as co-founder of investment company Saratoga Investama Sedaya, he is one of Indonesia’s richest people. He served as vice governor of the capital until he ran as vice president for the opposition in 2019, and was appointed as tourism minister last year by President Joko Widodo.

In the post-pandemic era, Indonesia will look to make its tourism sector greener and more sustainable, Uno said. It is shifting “from a quantity basis to a quality basis,” where trips will be “personalized, customized, localized and smaller in size,” he said.

Traditionally, many overseas tourists to Indonesia have been drawn to Bali. Of the nation’s 16 million foreign visitors in 2019, nearly 40% entered through the island’s I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport. But that has sparked worries about overtourism on the so-called “Island of the Gods.” In response, the government is developing five priority tourism destinations on Bali that will push to be eco-friendly and sustainable.

“We aspire to be a competitive player in sustainable tourism and ecotourism going forward. We definitely believe that particularly Bali will continue to be a prominent international tourist destination,” the minister said.

The move is partly driven by Indonesia’s pledge to implement the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals which “cascade down to the road map of sustainable tourism,” the minister said. “In order to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, [the tourism ministry will] set some goals that will provide connectivity for tourism destinations focusing on specialized interest tourism, sports tourism [and] ecotourism … also, at the same time, improving hygiene [and reducing crowding],” Uno said.

“New and renewable energies, for instance, will be introduced in all tourism destinations, with carbon offset activities because people use a lot of carbon getting to destinations,” the minister said. “They will be offered activities to offset that carbon … such as mangrove [planting] obligations.”

Uno added that technological advancements are providing “potential opportunities” to make Indonesia’s tourism “more sustainable and green going forward.”

(by : Nikkey Asia)