Masrur Jamaluddin and Lilit Marcus, CNN • Updated 16th December 2021
Hong Kong/Jakarta (CNN) — Destinations around the world have faced significant tourist reductions amid the coronavirus pandemic. But few have taken a harder hit than Bali, the Indonesian island long beloved of global travelers.
Due to strict border control measures and a closed airport, Bali went from receiving millions of international visitors to welcoming just 45 in 2021.
Compare that to about 6.2 million international arrivals in 2019 and 1.05 million in 2020.
“That is the lowest number of foreign tourist visits we’ve ever recorded,” Nyoman Gede Gunadika, section head of tourism for Bali Province, told CNN.
The two-digit number accounts for the period between January and October 2021 and was confirmed by the Central Statistics Bureau of Bali.
As the island’s Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) in Denpasar has been closed to international flights nearly all year, those tourists have almost all come via private yachts. Though the airport officially reopened to international flights on October 14, there have so far only been domestic flights in and out of the airport, primarily from Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta.
In order to come to Bali, foreign tourists have to deal with strict Covid-related entry requirements. They must obtain a business visa at a cost of $300 (there are no tourist visas at present), take multiple PCR tests and buy special health insurance. In addition, airfare costs are higher than usual due to the lack of direct flights.
One hopeful visitor is Justyna Wrucha, a UK citizen planning a trip to Bali with her husband. It will be their first visit to the island, which she says has long been on their bucket list.
“We think that the government in Indonesia and Bali is extremely harsh by imposing a 10-day quarantine on fully vaccinated people,” Wrucha tells CNN.
Bali’s Covid policies relating to foreign visitors are determined by the central government in Jakarta, not by local authorities on the island. Originally, the quarantines were shorter but were recently increased due to fears of the new Omicron variant.
Wrucha and her husband will arrive in Jakarta on December 26, quarantine there for 10 days and then fly to Bali barring any changes or last-minute issues. She says they have relied on social media, primarily Instagram, to stay updated rather than on official government channels.
“Before Covid, people from Europe and the UK loved Bali,” she adds.
Ray Suryawijaya, head of the Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association of Bali’s Badung District, agrees with Wrucha.
“With all those barriers, it’s difficult for us to expect foreign tourists to come to Bali,” he said.
However, there is one small glimmer of hope with the gradual return of domestic tourism. Ray reports that the occupancy rate of hotels in Bali is now around 35%.
“On weekends, about 13,000 domestic tourists are visiting Bali,” he adds.
While that small trickle of visitors is an encouraging note to end the year on, especially for the many Balinese locals who depend on tourism to support their families, it won’t be enough to rescue the 2021 season.