Bali Welcomes Chinese Flight After Long COVID-19 Hiatus – The Diplomat

ASEAN Beat | Economy | Southeast Asia

Indonesian authorities hope the return of Chinese visitors will mark the beginning of the end for the island’s long Covid-19 slumber.

Bali welcomes Chinese flight after long COVID-19 hiatus

A lion dancer greets Chinese tourists upon their arrival at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia on Sunday, Jan. 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 possible end to the resort island’s economically devastating COVID-19 hiatus. According to the Associated Press, at least 210 people were on board the chartered plane operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, which flew from Shenzhen in Guangdong province.

The flight follows the Chinese government’s decision to lift travel restrictions on Jan. 8, raising hopes for the recovery of Southeast Asia’s once-vibrant tourist economies in time for this week’s Lunar New Year holiday, when many Chinese nationals in Driving abroad.

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While Indonesia as a whole is not as tourism-dependent as other nations in the region, especially Thailand, few regions in Southeast Asia are as heavily dependent as Bali. Tourism contributes about 5 percent of Indonesia’s economy (versus about 20 percent in Thailand), but about 80 percent of Bali’s.

As with most of Southeast Asia, China was an important part of this story. Before COVID-19, more than 2 million tourists from China visited Indonesia, and China has risen to become the top source of tourists to Bali. But all direct flights from mainland China to Denpasar were halted in the first half of 2020 as COVID-19 began its deadly global spread, with devastating impact 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 welcomes barely 50. As such, Bali’s recession was much worse than that of the country as a whole: the island’s economy contraction of 9.3 percent in 2020, compared to Indonesia’s 2 percent recession. When the borders were closed, tens of thousands of workers in the tourism sector either lost their jobs or were forced to take unpaid leave.

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Last year brought a degree of completion. In March 2022, after nearly two years of being blocked to foreign visitors, Indonesia began quarantine-free 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.

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

In order to attract a larger number of visitors from China, the Indonesian authorities are considering the possibility of opening direct flights from three capital cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Tourism officials in Bali have already spoken of their intention to focus their attention on attracting high-earning Chinese tourists rather than large package tour groups.

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