by Xinhua writers Wang Aona, Hayati Nupus
JAKARTA, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- The recent downward trend in COVID-19 cases and relaxed restrictions on public activities, locally known as PPKM, have brought some fresh air for many Indonesians.
"Based on our research, Indonesians were eagerly waiting for the opening of tourist destinations. They really want to travel," Nunung Rusmiati, secretary-general of the Association of Indonesian Tourism Industries (GIPI), told Xinhua.
The Indonesian government has imposed PPKM policy since early July, following the surge in coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Entering August, positive signs started to show. With cases dropping and the vaccination rate rising, more and more places therefore lowered the restrictions from the strictest Level 4 in Java and Bali.
Some tourist attractions in cities with PPKM Level 3 were allowed to reopen with limited capacity to people already vaccinated. Intercity travels for leisure became possible.
It is certainly exciting, yet worrying.
Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sandiaga Uno mentioned on several occasions recently that the tourism sector must prepare for the upcoming "revenge travel", especially areas near Jakarta.
"We welcome the relaxation of PPKM in parts of Java and Bali, but we must remain vigilant and apply strict and disciplined health protocols," Uno told a press conference last Monday.
The issue of safety and expense worried Edi Yamin, head of a backpacker community in Jakarta, a lot.
"I think the possibility of getting infected remains high at the moment. Traveling during the pandemic is more expensive as well. To fly on an airplane, we have to do a PCR or antigen test first, the price of which is much higher outside Java," said Yamin.
Yamin remembered clearly his last trip to the islands of Nusa Tenggara in July last year. "My friends and I departed from Jakarta in good health, but when it was time to go back, several of us tested positive and stuck there for a long time," he said.
"Many cluster infections of COVID-19 stem from traveling, like those happened in Italy and Spain last summer. Tourists came home from vacation carrying the virus," Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist of Griffith University, said in a recent press conference given by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy.
For tourism-related businesses, mixed feelings are more obvious.
"We are happy that the government is easing restrictions, and as entrepreneurs, we must seize this opportunity. But we are worried too because sometimes tourists are too happy to be careful," said Asnawi Bahar, owner of a travel agency in Bali. "If cluster infections happen, we'll certainly be blamed by the public. We can't let that happen."
Preparing for the smooth landing of the travel binge thus became the major concern of travel agencies.
Rusmiati said that to minimize the risk of transmission, the key is to keep tourists closely monitored. "For example, we have asked agencies to adopt strict health protocols, to prioritize family consumers and groups no more than 25 people, and to collaborate with airlines for the sake of faster tracing."
Meanwhile, a test-and-trace app, named PeduliLindungi, has been regarded by many as a useful tool to screen out potentially dangerous travelers as it records one's vaccination status and whereabouts.
"The implementation of digital-based health protocols via PeduliLindungi is key to preventing a recurrence of the difficult times we faced in July," Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in early September.
As of Sept. 5, its users reached nearly 21 million, out of which 761,000 people are in the red category, meaning that they are not allowed to enter public places such as shopping centers, factories and sports facilities.
Budiman believed that PeduliLindungi is one of the promising factors for the recovery of tourism, although it still has some limitations. It's hoped that this app would perform the function of risk analysis.
"Every country should have a roadmap for recovery. We can't wait until the pandemic is over to do everything," said Budiman. "An important lesson is that in the future the tourism industry must be better at crisis management. We must establish a system that can respond fast to future threats, including pandemics and natural disasters." Enditem