Indonesia Announces Visa Waivers In Order To Boost Tourism

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Indonesia Announces Visa Waivers In Order To Boost Tourism

The country has joined Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia in loosening entry regulations amid the region’s sluggish tourism recovery.

Indonesia Announces Visa Waivers In Order To Boost Tourism
Credit: Depositphotos

Yesterday, Indonesia’s Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno announced that the country is considering granting visa-free entry to citizens of 20 countries in order to deliver a jolt to the country’s economy and tourist sector.

According to a report by Reuters, the ministry has not finalized the list of countries to be included in the scheme, but that it will likely include the United States, China, Australia, India, South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France.

Like many nations in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has yet fully to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent the country’s tourist sector into freefall. More than 16.1 million foreign nationals visited Indonesia in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. This then fell to just over 4 million in 2020 and then down to 1.6 million in 2021.

The recovery is now well underway. From January to October this year, Indonesia received 9.49 million foreign visitors, and the country is on track to double the 5.47 million people that visited the country last year. This is still considerably less than the more than the country’s pre-pandemic peak, however.

Indonesia is the latest country in Southeast Asia to loosen visa regulations in order to attract foreign tourists. The Indonesian announcement fell on the same day that Singapore announced a mutual visa exemption with China, which will allow citizens of both countries to take 30-day trips without a visa. The policy will be implemented early next year.  Malaysia has also announced visa-free entry to citizens of China and India for stays of up to 30 days, from the start of this month until the end of 2024.

Thailand, Southeast Asia’s largest tourism market (and the second-largest in Asia), which attracted nearly 40 million visitors in 2019, has also temporarily waived visas for travelers from China, Kazakhstan, Russia, India, and Taiwan, and taken steps to reduce bottlenecks at the country’s airports.

The common denominator in virtually all of these schemes is visa-free travel for Chinese nationals, which were among the leading national cohort of outbound tourists prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the number of outbound tourists from China reached nearly 155 million, but then cratered to around 20.3 million in 2020. The recovery in visitor numbers to Southeast Asian countries has been sluggish, due to Beijing’s strict “zero COVID” policy, which was only ended in January of this year, and the country’s broader economic downturn.

China, too, has loosened its visa requirements for citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia in a bid to revive a tourist sector that was devastated by the prolonged border closures and “zero COVID” policies.

With international arrivals continuing to creep back upward, these measures by Southeast Asia’s governments amount to a competitive bid for the foreign tourist dollar, yuan, and rupee. While this will be a good thing for visitors to the region, the various policies could simply end up canceling each other out.