Bali reopens to international visitors as coronavirus surge subsides

Vendor under a beach umbrella
A beach vendor sets out chairs as he waits for customers on the resort island of Bali, in Indonesia.
(Firdia Lisnawati / Associated Press)

The Indonesian resort island of Bali reopened to international travelers for the first time in more than a year Thursday — as long as they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, test negative for the coronavirus, hail from certain countries, spend some time in quarantine and heed public restrictions.

However, foreign visitors may be slow to arrive. No international flights to Bali were scheduled on the first day of the reopening. A tourism official forecast that travel would pick up in November.

Bali’s airport will welcome foreign arrivals from 19 countries that meet such World Health Organization criteria as having their coronavirus caseloads under control, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the government minister who leads the COVID-19 response in Java and Bali, said in a statement late Wednesday.


He said all international flyers must have proof they’ve been double-vaccinated, test negative for the coronavirus upon arrival in Bali and undergo a five-day quarantine at designated hotels at their own expense. They’ll also have to follow stringent rules at hotels, in restaurants and on Bali’s famed white-sand beaches.

“We have to do this with caution because we need to stay alert,” Pandjaitan said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo credited Bali’s high vaccination rate for the decision to reopen. The country’s coronavirus caseload has also declined considerably; Indonesia has had around 1,000 cases a day in the past week after peaking at about 56,000 daily in July.

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Tourism is the main source of income on Bali, the idyllic “island of the gods” that is home to more than 4 million people, who are mainly Hindu in the mostly Muslim archipelago nation. Bali’s tourist areas were deserted two decades ago after visitors were scared off by deadly terror attacks that targeted foreigners, but the island has worked to overcome that image.

More than 6 million foreigners arrived in Bali each year prior to the pandemic.

Foreign tourist arrivals dropped from 6.2 million in 2019 to 1 million in 2020, while 92,000 people employed in tourism lost their jobs, and the average room-occupancy rate of classified hotels in Bali was below 20%. Statistics Indonesia data showed that the island’s economy contracted 9.31% year-on-year in 2020.

After being closed to all visitors early in the pandemic, Bali reopened to Indonesians from other parts of the country in the middle of last year. That helped the island’s economy grow a modest 2.83% in the second quarter this year, ending five consecutive quarters of contraction.

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The July coronavirus surge, fueled by the Delta variant, again totally emptied the island’s normally bustling beaches and streets. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and shuttered all shops, bars, sit-down restaurants, tourist attractions and many other places on the island. It reopened to domestic travelers in August.


Sang Putu Wibawa, the general manager at Bali’s Tandjung Sari Hotel, said only two of its 40 rooms were occupied on average. He hopes the reopening will help return the occupancy rate to normal.

“We have been waiting for this moment for so long,” he said. “This outbreak has hammered the local economy. ... We are very excited to welcome foreign guests by observing health protocols.”

Widodo said that the decision to reopen Bali was based on its high vaccination rate as well as wanting to revive its economy. He said more than 80% of Bali’s population has been fully vaccinated.

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“Based on this situation, I am optimistic, and we have decided to reopen international flights to Bali,” Widodo wrote on his official Instagram account Saturday.

Overall, 59.4 million of Indonesia’s 270 million people are fully vaccinated and another 43.2 million are partially vaccinated. Indonesia has confirmed more than 4.2 million cases and 142,811 deaths from COVID-19, the most in Southeast Asia.

Tourists from 19 countries are now able to visit the Bali and Riau islands provinces: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Hungary and Norway.