Starting from today, Indonesia has lifted all quarantine requirements for overseas visitors, two years after it imposed border restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19. The announcement was made yesterday by Tourism and Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, who expressed hopes that the loosening of travel restrictions will boost the number of foreign tourists to over 3 million in 2022.
“With the handling of the pandemic more controlled …today we announce that the policy of no quarantine has been expanded across Indonesia,” said Sandiaga, according to Reuters. The announcement came after the successful implementation of a trial quarantine waiver for visitors to Bali, as well as to Batam and Bintan islands close to Singapore. The minister said that foreign tourists will still be required to have a negative PCR test before entering the country.
About 143,700 foreign tourists ventured to Indonesia in January, up 13.6 percent from the same month in 2021, Reuters reported. Prior to the pandemic, however, Indonesia typically attracted more than 1 million visitors each month.
The announcement came as Indonesia recorded just 4,699 new cases of COVID-19, less than a tenth of the toll that the country was recording as late as mid-February – the latest evidence that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly but then dies away relatively quickly. The Philippines saw a similarly alarming spike early in January before cases quickly came down.
The fading of the Omicron threat has seen a number of Southeast Asian countries shed the restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the first few months 0f 2020, and attempt to rebuild their economically vital tourism sectors.
On February 10, the Philippines fully reopened to international tourism, followed by Vietnam on March 15. On March 18, Cambodia dropped its COVID-19 testing requirement for overseas visitors, while visitors to Thailand, which first waived its quarantine requirement back in November, will from April 1 no longer have to take a test before boarding a flight to the country. Malaysia’s borders are scheduled to open to foreign tourists at the start of next month, with the country’s government targeting 2 million visitors for 2022.
The recovery of Southeast Asia’s tourism sector looms as a vital part of its economic recovery writ large. Thailand attracted nearly 40 million visitors in 2019, the year before the pandemic, while Malaysia drew 26.1 million, Singapore attracted 19.1 million, Vietnam drew 18 million, and Indonesia 16.1 million.
Meanwhile 8.26 million foreign nationals visited the Philippines in 2019, along with 6.6 million visitors to Cambodia and 4.79 million to Laos. The same year, Myanmar was among the fastest growing tourism markets in the world, before COVID-19 and last February’s military coup send this rapid growth into reverse.
While the flurry of openings points the way toward the beginning of the end for Southeast Asia’s tourism recession, and a degree of relief for hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods rely on flows of international visitors, recovery is likely to be slow. Leaving aside the possible emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, China’s “zero COVID” policy and the international sanctions against Russia, the latter of which has left thousands of travelers stranded in Thailand and Indonesia, are both likely to weigh heavily on the sector for the immediate term.