Bali welcomes Chinese flight after long COVID-19 hiatus – Diplomat

ASEAN win | Economie | Southeast Asia

Indonesian authorities hope the return of Chinese visitors will mark the beginning of the end of the long stagnation of the COVID-19 virus on the island.

A lion dancer welcomes Chinese tourists upon their arrival at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, on Sunday, January 22, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati

The Indonesian island of Bali yesterday welcomed its first direct flight from China in nearly three years, marking a potential end to the island’s economically devastating COVID-19 hiatus. According to the Associated Press, at least 210 people were on board the charter plane operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, which was flying from Shenzhen in Guangdong province.

The trip came on the heels of the Chinese government’s decision to lift travel restrictions from Jan. 8, which has raised hopes that once-vibrant Southeast Asian tourism economies will rebound this week’s Lunar New Year holiday, when many Chinese nationals will venture abroad. .

While Indonesia as a whole is not as dependent on tourism as other countries in the region, especially Thailand, few regions in Southeast Asia depend as heavily on Bali. Tourism contributes about 5 percent to the Indonesian economy (versus about 20 percent in Thailand), but about 80 percent in Bali.

As with most of Southeast Asia, China has become an important part of this story. Prior to COVID-19, more than two million tourists from China visited Indonesia, and China rose to become the number one source of tourists to Bali. But all direct flights from mainland China to Denpasar were halted in the first half of 2020 as the COVID-19 virus began to spread around the world, with devastating effects on the island’s tourism-dependent economy.

In 2019, the year before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, 6.9 million foreign nationals visited Bali; In 2021, it welcomed barely 50. As such, Bali’s recession has been far worse than that of the country as a whole: The island’s economy contracted 9.3 percent in 2020, compared to Indonesia’s 2 percent recession. And with borders closed, tens of thousands of workers in the tourism sector have lost their jobs or had to take unpaid leave.

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The past year has seen some relief. In March 2022, after nearly two years of barring foreign visitors, Indonesia began non-quarantine entry to the resort island for vaccinated foreigners. In 2022, 2.1 million international visitors will arrive in Bali by air, with Australian and Indian tourists leading the recovery.

At the same time, the persistence of China’s “zero COVID” policy has hampered Bali’s economy. According to the Associated Press report, Indonesia is targeting 255,000 tourists from China this year, after recording 94,924 visits from China from January to October last year. The government’s relatively modest projections suggest that for all the optimism about a rapid China-led recovery, a full recovery of Bali’s tourism economy, and that of Southeast Asia as a whole, could be some time.

In order to attract more visitors from China, the Indonesian authorities are studying the possibility of opening direct flights from three major cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Bali tourism officials have already spoken of their intention to focus their attention on attracting high-income Chinese tourists rather than large tour groups.

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