DestinationsBali Hotels Association chair Fransiska Handoko celebrates the island's strong inbound tourism restart.

Bali reopening gives tourism sector a reason to smile again

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Bali’s daily international arrival numbers have climbed steadily since the return of the visa on arrival service.
Bali’s daily international arrival numbers have climbed steadily since the return of the visa on arrival service. Photo Credit: Unsplash/Artem Beliaikin

These days, Fransiska Handoko is often seen wearing a radiant smile. It isn't hard to see why. The chair of Bali Hotels Association (BHA) recently welcomed faces she hadn’t seen for two years to BHA’s monthly meeting. 

“Everyone was celebrating the reopening and that we’re finally moving forward. There’s a real feeling of optimism among our members,” she beamed, when she met Travel Weekly Asia for a chat. 

Since the return of the visa on arrival (VoA) in early March — which many saw as the true restart of the Indonesian island’s inbound travel sector — Bali’s daily international arrival numbers have climbed steadily. 

In the first half of April 2022, over 11,000 inbound arrivals passed through the gates of Ngurah Rai International Airport. While this may seem minor compared to the 476,000 received in April 2019, it was a significant jump from the nine foreigners who flew to the island in April last year.

With the peak Islamic holiday season Eid-ul-Fitr and Australian school holidays just around the corner, these figures are certain to rise over the next few months — as long as airlines can keep up. 

“Everything depends on the flight schedules,” Handoko noted. Currently 10 airlines are flying direct to Bali, with Emirates scheduled to bring it to 11 at the beginning of May. Pre-pandemic, 44 airlines had direct routes to the island. 

Some of Bali’s biggest source markets — Australia, Singapore, the US and the UK — have been the first to return, with the notable exception of China, whose zero Covid policy is still restricting international travel for its citizens. 

After the recent reinstatement of visa-free visits for ASEAN nationals, the region’s big group market is beginning to fire up again. BHA members have received many RFPs and group travel quotations from the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore for May, June and July. “The next period will be crucial for Bali,” she said. 

At Risata Resort & Spa, where Handoko heads as general manager, bookings are picking up for May and June, especially among its Australian returners. Some of these regular guests raised funds to provide the South Kuta resort’s staff with basic necessities during the pandemic. “That level of support was so moving,” Handoko said.

Bali Hotels Association members have received many RFPs and group travel quotations from the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, said BHA chair Fransiska Handoko.
Bali Hotels Association members have received many RFPs and group travel quotations from the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, said BHA chair Fransiska Handoko.

Also contributing to the hospitality industry’s optimism is the revival of the island’s MICE sector, with the jewel in the crown, the G20 Summit, to be held within the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation area (ITDC) in Nusa Dua in November. 

The nation’s coordinating minister for the economy, Airlangga Hartato, has stated that the event will comprise 150 side meetings in addition to the main conference session, involve 33,000 workers, and add US$140 million to GDP. “We are hoping that attendees will make it beyond the ITDC area, so that small and medium enterprises and other destinations will also benefit,” said Handoko. 

Along with the G20 and dozens of conferences and expos, major festivals are back on the cards for the island, including Bali Spirit Festival in May, Ubud Food Festival in June, and Ubud Writers & Readers Festival in October. 

More clarity and support

As more international tourists return to Bali and hotels and agents revive their business, they can access travel information pertaining to Bali on WelcomeBacktoBali.com, one of BHA’s major initiatives during the pandemic. 

Throughout a long period of frequent and confusing regulation changes, the well-designed website was a beacon of clarity — and traffic numbers reflect this. The site received over 200,000 interactions in March, with Australians the most regular users. “The website was a huge success,” Handoko said with a smile. BHA is currently in talks with the Australian government to potentially integrate information from its travel advice service, Smartraveler. 

Despite Bali’s strong inbound tourism restart, most BHA members aren’t quite ready to offer new tours or experiences yet. “Everyone is still focusing on reopening their properties, or reopening all their facilities, and providing refresher training for staff, while travel agents are focusing on their existing products.”

As more countries reopen their borders, Handoko is confident that Bali will remain one of the world’s top holiday destinations. “Our strength is our diversity. From the beaches to the mountains to the culture — everything is available on one island. There is something for every type of traveller.”

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