Wearing yellow “Bali” hats with surfers as the last letter, Chinese tourists waded through the clear blue waters of Indonesia’s backpacker hotspot, forgetting three years of Covid-19 woes.
The world’s biggest spenders, who explored Turtle Island, took day trips to neighboring Lombok and hit Bali’s famous beaches, returned after the Lunar New Year began and Beijing reopened last month.
“I am very happy to travel because before the epidemic, I was a person who likes to travel a lot and see beautiful places and experience different cultures and people,” said Li Zhaolong, a 28-year-old netizen. An employee of a company in Kunming, southwest Yunnan province, told AFP.
I am very happy and very happy to be able to come to Indonesia from China after three years.”
Chinese holidaymakers endured years of lockdowns and travel restrictions as Beijing stuck to its “zero Covid” policy, then suddenly reopened and spread infections.
Now, armed with selfie sticks and wearing tropical shirts and sunhats, the lucky few are making their way to the “Island of the Gods” for their long-awaited vacation.
In recent years, the number of Chinese tourists to Bali has declined after the two countries closed their borders at the height of the epidemic.
But Indonesia’s tourism minister said Jakarta is aiming for a big recovery from those lows, estimating the country will welcome 253,000 Chinese tourists this year.
Balinese officials are even more optimistic, expecting two-thirds of the 1.2 million Chinese tourists who visited the island before the pandemic to return, making them the second largest group of tourists after Australians.
– “Happy Event” –
Hundreds of Chinese tourists have so far arrived on the once-a-week flight from Shenzhen, but the Indonesian government said four more airlines have applied for regular flights from China to Bali.
By 2025, officials expect Chinese tourists to return to the level of one-fifth of all visitors to the island.
The tourism minister said the government also plans to step up its marketing of Bali as a paradise.
At a mall in Denpasar, Bali’s capital, Dong Yi was one of those who needed no persuasion, promising to return to Indonesia now that mainlanders could travel back and forth.
The 47-year-old financial worker said, “From the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt the warm hospitality of the Balinese people. I really like it here.”
“I will come here to travel often in the future”
Lee said the pandemic had been a “difficult time” for him and his compatriots, and that it was “a happy time to be able to leave the country” after three years of grueling waiting.
– ‘Back’ –
China, largely untouched by the virus thanks to years of draconian measures since the first outbreak, has faced its biggest-ever outbreak in recent weeks, with about 80 percent of the population believed to have contracted Covid.
The United States, Italy, South Korea and Japan have imposed restrictions on travelers from mainland China due to the outbreak, while Indonesia has opposed targeted measures beyond mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for all visitors.
Meanwhile, it’s far from normal on the holiday island as the rainy season is in full swing and visitor numbers are recovering.
But for shopkeepers like Elphan Situmorang, the anxiety is finally fading after being hit by the economic crisis.
“We hope more Chinese tourists will come to Bali,” Situmorang told AFP, adding that before the outbreak, 80 percent of his customers in the tourist area of Kuta were Chinese.
“During the pandemic, the revenue was zero, so we had to lay off staff.”
Tour operators are also optimistic that the industry will get back on its feet as China returns to its old ways.
“To be honest, we were struggling. I lost 10 kilograms, so you can see how difficult it was,” Anita, manager of the Indonesian Travel Agency at Bali’s international airport, told AFP.
“But I’m sure we’re on our way back.”