Indonesia’s popular tourist destination of Bali is ready to welcome back visitors on Thursday after facing months of economic uncertainty.
Bali, whose economy significantly depends on tourism, has racked up a monthly income loss of up to 9.7 trillion rupiah (£535.2 million) during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tourism will be restricted to Indonesians and expatriates living there for now, but province’s limits are expected to widen soon.
According to the island’s provincial government, Bali is scheduled to reopen its doors to domestic travellers from other parts of the country on July 31, earlier than its initial plan to do so in August. Foreign tourists will be allowed entry starting September 11.
The move has been welcomed by local business owners hit hardest by the drop in visitors.
I Gusti Ngurah Adi Mahendra, a 27-year-old tour agency owner in the island’s Jembrana regency, said he “supports any decision that has been issued by the government”.
Mr Mahendra explained that “all tourism sectors have been totally paralysed” in Bali for the last few months, while many industries have “gone out of business and sold their properties”.
He is now battling “severe stress” as he still has to pay his loans while losing his clients to the outbreak. At the moment, he spends his time fishing and operates a grilled fish stand on the roadside in order to make a living.
“Although this is not as comfortable as usual, but slowly everything will come back and get better,” he said.
“If all returns to normal, it goes back to the travellers to help make Bali’s tourism deserve to be visited [again] and continue supporting the local economy.”
Meanwhile I Nyoman Gede Gunadika, head of the tourism market analysis section at the Bali Government Tourism Office, said the potential in welcoming local visitors would be “great because it has been closed for a long time”.
He said Bali’s income “is expected to grow again”, with authorities expected to focus on promoting the island’s natural and cultural tourism more.
“For the time being, we are promoting that we are ready to receive tourists because the new normal health protocols have been implemented to convince visitors [to come here],” Mr Gunadika told The Telegraph.
He explained that certificates, issued by the tourism office, will show whether a business has been verified as following new protocols to help stop the spread of the virus.
Mr Gunadika shared the independent assessment form templates that officials use when verifying accommodation, water recreation, transportation and MICE travel businesses in the island with The Telegraph.
The forms will assess the availability of hand sanitisers and thermometer guns or scanners, the availability of non-cash payment platforms, a minimum of one-metre physical distancing arrangement and the establishment of special monitoring officers in implementing the health protocols.
Despite these measures, concerns remain over Bali’s unreadiness in fighting the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, the nation reported more than 68,000 infections and 3,300 fatalities, while the province is still seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases.
I Nengah Subadra, principal lecturer at Triatma Jaya Tourism Institute, said visitors would not be as free in visiting tourist sites, adding only “risk takers” and “brave” tourists would insist on exploring the island during the pandemic.
He said the government’s initiative was meant “simply to stimulate the tourism life here”.
“The goal is to revive the tourism machine, even though the scope is domestic,” Dr Subadra said. “There they [tourists] shop at the restaurant, at the bar and so on, to eat snacks at the restaurant, it [tourism] can live again.”
Other observers worry about the ability of the local population in reviving the island's tourism sector alone.
Indonesian travel journalist Cristian Rahadiansyah remains sceptical as to whether the government’s plan to allow local residents to travel around the island will be enough.
He said “there is still potential” for recovery should the tourism industry rely on the Balinese and those who already live in Bali, but that it is not “something that cannot be expected from the local market”.
There are around 4.38 million citizens living in Bali this year, according to Statistics Indonesia population projection for 2020.
“But in the context of saving companies in the tourism sector in Bali, that is not enough, it is far from enough,” said Mr Rahadiansyah.
“Because the majority of people from outside of Bali who live in Bali are employees of companies in the tourism field… They themselves are already part of the industry, so what they need is foreign exchange.”