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COVID-19 shifts tourism focus to safe, responsible travel

COVID-19 shifts tourism focus to safe, responsible travel

Tourists visited Canggu Beach in Badung, Bali on Thursday (June 4, 2020). ANTARA FOTO/Fikri Yusuf/aww

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has brought the world to a standstill, with people around the globe confined to their homes over the last three months at least to break the chain of virus transmission.

As countries race to develop vaccines against COVID-19, their tourism and hospitality industries, which have been crippled by the pandemic, are trying to revive and adapt their businesses by implementing stringent health protocols.

Tourism and hospitality industries are now working to ensure guests and clients stay safe, healthy and comfortable by implementing physical distancing measures and stringent health protocols.

Tourists are being advised to stay safe and travel responsibly by following the WHO’s simple, but effective, guidelines, such as washing hands regularly and thoroughly, avoiding shaking hands or touching the face, staying away from crowded places, and where possible, maintaining at least one-meter distance from other people.

Indonesia is one of the countries that are eager to initiate a recovery in their tourism and hospitality industries, which have been dealt a heavy blow by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Central Statistics Agency (BPS) head Suhariyanto, foreign tourist arrivals in Indonesia fell sharply by 87.44 percent to 160 thousand in April, 2020 from 1.27 million in April, 2019. Compared with March, foreign tourist arrivals declined 66.02 percent in April.

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Meanwhile, the number of foreign tourists arriving at airports in April, 2020 plunged by 99.90 percent compared to the corresponding period of the previous year.

The Soekarno-Hatta International Airport recorded a 99.79-percent drop in foreign tourist arrivals in April this year, while the Lombok International Airport in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) reported a decline of 99.81 percent, and the Ahmad Yani Airport in Central Java 99.82 percent.

Meanwhile, the Husein Sastranegara Airport in West Java, Adisucipto Airport in Yogyakarta, Sam Ratulangi Airport in North Sulawesi, Minangkabau Airport in West Sumatra, Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport in Riau, Supandio Airport in West Kalimantan, Hasanuddin Airport in South Sulawesi, and Sultan Badaruddin II Airport in South Sumatra have witnessed a 100-percent decline in tourist arrivals.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Indonesia had outlined a target to attract at least 17 million foreign tourists in 2020.

Now, as the country is on the lookout for a breakthrough to breathe new life into the tourism industry amid the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy is formulating strategies to cope with the problem.

"We have prepared strategies to anticipate the decline in foreign tourist visits by applying new normal protocols in the sector," spokesperson for the ministry's Task Force for COVID-19 Handling, Ari Juliano Gema, said on June 2, 2020. The protocol will be applied in regions which are ready to receive tourists.

"President Joko Widodo has instructed us not to act hastily. During the recovery period, we will first focus on efforts to mobilize domestic tourists," Gema added.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) last May highlighted the need for tourism operators in Indonesia to give greater attention to domestic tourists, following the government’s application of a new normal order in the tourism sector.

To this end, Jokowi has issued instructions to identify regions or tourist destination areas, with a relatively low rate of COVID-19 transmission.

The President is upbeat about the reproduction number (RO), or (Rt), of less than one in some tourist destinations.

"If that is the case, we can gradually open the tourism sector. However, once again, they (tourist destinations) must apply stringent protocols," he remarked.

The head of state has also instructed the minister of tourism and creative economy to prepare COVID-19-free domestic tourism programs to attract domestic tourists.

The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy has also prepared a Cleanliness, Health and Safety (CHS) program that would be initially be implemented in Bali, Yogyakarta, and Riau Islands, followed by five other super-priority destinations and other regions in Indonesia.

The ministry’s COVID-19 task force will work in coordination with operators of tourist destinations, local hospitals, the military, and police to implement the program.

In future, the ministry will focus on the development of quality tourism that emphasizes on efforts to increase foreign exchange revenue, rather than focusing on mass tourism alone.

The health protocols for the tourism sector in the new normal will focus on hygiene, health, and safety in the conduct of businesses, according to the ministry.

"Particularly for the tourism sector, the application of the new normal protocols is aimed to make visiting tourists feel safe and comfortable because tourism facilities will improve following the (implementation of new) standards of cleanliness, health and safety," Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio observed.

He has confirmed that his ministry has worked with the Health Ministry and other related ministries and stakeholders to prepare the protocols applicable in the sector.

"Health and security protocols will attract tourists. We continue to work hard to formulate strategic moves to prepare a health protocol in an effort to accelerate the recovery of the tourism sector," he stated.

The minister made the statement during an international tourism webinar on ‘Changes of Tourism Paradigm In the Era of New Normal’, organized by the Indonesia Tourism Forum (ITF) on May 15, 2020.

The minister was optimistic Indonesia's tourism industry would recover sooner than expected, likely taking less than five years to return to normalcy.

"We have to work towards ensuring a faster recovery of the tourism sector. We fully understand that tourism is the backbone of the economy," he noted.

The tourism sector has contributed significantly to creating jobs, boosting foreign exchange and investment, and bolstering development in other sectors in the country.

The closure of tourist destinations owing to the pandemic should be viewed as an opportunity to evaluate and improve tourist destinations and facilities, as well as a chance for operators to offer better services and bring about sustainable tourism development.

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