11 July 2024

Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali will welcome its first direct flight carrying foreign tourists for nearly two years on Thursday, but just a handful of visitors will be on board to enter strict quarantine on arrival.

A Garuda Indonesia flight from Tokyo is scheduled to arrive in Bali in the afternoon, with six foreigners and six Indonesians aboard, said Ida Ayu Indah Yustikarini, an official at the Bali Government Tourism Office.

Though the island officially opened to visitors from China, New Zealand, Japan and a few other countries in mid-October, there have been no direct non-cargo flights since then.

The six foreign tourists arriving from Tokyo were travelling using business visas since the new rules for tourists were not ready when they applied to come, said Yustikarini.

Indonesia has said restarting international flights is intended to boost Bali’s battered tourism sector, which usually accounts for 54% of its economy.

Known for its surfing, temples, waterfalls and nightlife, Bali drew 6.2 million foreign visitors in 2019, the year before COVID-19 struck. The entire country recorded just 1.6 million foreign visitors last year, down 61.57% from 2020.

However, Indonesia is maintaining much stricter quarantine requirements than Southeast Asian neighbours Thailand, which resumed quarantine-free entry for vaccinated visitors from Tuesday and the Philippines, which will do the same from Feb. 10.

Vaccinated tourists to Bali must quarantine between five and seven days at hotels or on vessels offshore.

Bali’s slow reopening comes as Indonesia has been seeing a steady increase in COVID-19 cases, primarily driven by the Omicron variant. The country on Wednesday reported nearly 18,000 infections, the highest tally since August.

Singapore Airlines said last week it would resume flights to Bali from Singapore starting on Feb. 16.

Garuda also said on Wednesday it had started a cargo flight from Bali to Japan, carrying 17 tonnes of goods including tuna fish. Most Asian airlines have relied heavily on cargo revenue during the pandemic due to low passenger numbers.

Last week, Indonesia opened two islands close to Singapore to visitors from the city-state, though visitors are confined to specific resort areas.