Looking like a neat little stream of bubbles off Lombok’s northwest coast, the three Gili Islands will be linked with one of Bali’s three designated green zones, once it opens for international arrivals.
Indonesia’s tourism and creative economy minister Sandiaga Uno has said he will begin to prepare a “travel pattern” that connects the green zone of Sanur on Bali’s southeast coast with Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air in West Nusa Tenggara province (NTB).
Located 95km from Bali's Sanur, this trio of islands is usually accessed by fast boat and are renowned for their tranquility, white sand beaches, magnificent sunsets and marine life.
While other Indonesian tourist destinations such as Belitung have put in a bid to receive designated green zone status, this is the first time the tourism ministry has announced an expansion of its “3B” (Bali-Batam-Bintan) travel bubble plan.
During a recent visit to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three Gilis known locally as Gili T, Sandiaga said the trio of islands is “a green zone because there have been zero Covid-19 cases”.
Although data on the number of cases in specific locations such as the Gilis isn’t publicly available, as of 11 May, NTB ranked as the 25th highest among Indonesia’s 34 provinces. By contrast, Bali ranked as the 9th highest province for total cases of Covid-19.
To kick-start promotion of the Sanur-Gilis extended green zone, Sandiaga encouraged travel agents to develop tour packages for the “Covid free” travel pattern.
"We will cooperate with actors in the tourism sector in Bali to sell packages that can be an alternative. In June or July, with improved Covid-19 conditions, Bali can be opened for foreign tourists. With the implementation of strict health protocols and discipline, we can also open the Gilis.”
Bali’s deputy governor, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, said on 10 May that the island is on track to open for international arrivals in July, despite the more infectious UK and South African Covid-19 variants being detected in the province.
During Sandiaga's two-day working visit in NTB, after swimming 250m from a boat to Gili T’s shore, the charismatic young minister also expressed his support for the development of local events. “They’re one of the fastest [ways] to encourage the movement of domestic tourists.”
Sandiaga also announced 3.7 trillion rupiah (US$259 million) in tourism development grants for the province, with the majority aimed at the Mandalika Special Economic Zone.
The governor of NTB, Zulkieflimansyah, who joined Sandiaga for the 250m swim, said, “Currently the prices offered are relatively cheap in the Gilis, they’re affordable. So far, we've focused on foreign tourists, but it turns out there are domestic tourists in front of our eyes that we haven't reached out to properly yet.”
Gill Westaway, owner of Villa Karingal on Bukit Batu Layar, just outside Senggigi on Lombok's west coast, said, "Hopefully the Sanur-Gilis travel pattern will extend to other parts of Lombok soon, as there are not many cases on the whole island. Lombok is so quiet and everyone needs to see tourists back here so badly."