Aceh's Struggle to Bring Foreign Tourist Arrivals Back on Track



Petir Garda Bhwana

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  • A number of tourists are seen flocking the Desa Suak Indra Puri beach, West Aceh, on Friday, January 01, 2021. ANTARA FOTO/Syifa Yulinnas

    A number of tourists are seen flocking the Desa Suak Indra Puri beach, West Aceh, on Friday, January 01, 2021. ANTARA FOTO/Syifa Yulinnas

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Indonesia remains in grip of the global pandemic of novel coronavirus that has severely hit its economy but the government is striving to win the fight against it through a national vaccination program.

    In pushing down the country's infection rate, the central and regional governments also continue their collaborative prevention measures, including imposition of micro-scale public activity restrictions (PPKM-Mikro).

    As of March 28, 2021, Indonesia has set up 7,664 command posts in 15 provinces to impose PPKM Mikro, according to the Indonesian government's COVID-19 Task Force.

    The 7,664 command posts are in charge of prevention measures for 12,619,259 households in 193,550 neighborhood units, the COVID-19 task force revealed.

    The PPKM-Mikro policy has been enforced for eighth weeks but all regions must exercise caution in the wake of potential threats of COVID-19 transmission.

    As of April 1, 2021, Indonesia recorded 6,142 new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, thereby bringing the total count of positive cases to 121,222.

    Bali Governor Wayan Koster has claimed that the customary village-based imposition of PPKM Mikro has helped push down the COVID-19 infection rate on the resort island.

    "Bali's number of new confirmed cases, counted on a daily basis, has shown a downward trend since the imposition of this PPKM Mikro policy," Koster said on Friday.

    Managing this COVID-19 infection rate seems to be a key for Indonesia's endeavors to revive its economic sector that has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

    To this end, a successful vaccination program and abiding to the health protocols in daily basis are so important for the country to bring its economy back on track.

    If these preconditions, including consistently implementing contact tracing and self-isolation, are fulfilled, Indonesia's economic sector can soon get recovered.

    The COVID-19 pandemic that has dragged Indonesia into serious public health and economic crises since March last year has severely rattled Aceh Province's tourism industry.

    Statistics Indonesia (BPS)-Aceh Office has recorded no foreign tourist arrivals in the province since early this year on account of travel restrictions for international travelers in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    In February, 2020, BPS recorded 4,030 foreign tourist arrivals in Aceh, but in February this year, there were no arrivals, BPS-Aceh Office head Ihsanurrijal said recently.

    "Thus, the enforcement of restrictions on international flights and sea transportation has resulted in the absence of foreign tourist arrivals in Aceh," he explained.

    In February last year, the countries that contributed to foreign tourist arrivals in Aceh were Malaysia, China, France, Germany, Australia, Japan, the United States, Singapore, United Kingdom, and Thailand, among others.

    The cumulative figure of foreign travelers visiting the province in January and February, 2020 was recorded at 8,012 people. Majority of them were Malaysian citizens.

    Aceh, Indonesia's westernmost province, lies on the northernmost tip of Sumatra Island. It is rich in historical and cultural heritage objects as well as natural beauty.

    The city of Sabang, for instance, is renowned for its well-protected forest, "kilometer-zero" monument representing Indonesia's starting point, sandy beaches, and underwater beauty, with abundant snorkeling and diving spots.

    Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sabang was one of the popular tourist destinations on Sumatra Island among domestic and foreign visitors as well as international sailors.

    Located on Weh Island, Sabang has been frequented by tourists, including those aboard international cruise ships and yachts.

    This year, the Sabang Free Trade Zone and Port Management Body (BPKS) has outlined a target of clocking at least 12 international cruise ship arrivals.

    To this end, the BPKS authority has maintained steady coordination with the city government to address issues pertaining to permits for cruise ships to dock.

    "The cruise ships will be allowed to dock at Sabang on the basis of the Sabang mayor's letter," BPKS Head Iskandar Zulkarnain noted in a recent statement.

    The Sabang city administration awaits the Indonesian government's permits for the cruise ships to dock at this Aceh Province's coastal city.

    Assistant for the Sabang city government's economic and development affairs, Kamaruddin, remarked that reopening the city for cruise ships relies on the government's permits.

    "We just refer to the central government's standard operating procedures. If the permit is issued, we open Sabang (for the cruise ships)," he explained.

    Kamaruddin affirmed that endeavors to usher in economy recovery for the people should also be an indispensable part of the efforts to handle the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indonesia.

    In the early days of this coronavirus pandemic last year, the Sabang city administration had enforced stringent travel restrictions on non-residents to enter the city.

    As a precautionary measure to contain the spread of this lethal virus, the Sabang authority had mandated visitors to present free COVID-19 health certificates and placed a temporary ban on cruise ships.

    "Alhamdulillah (Thank God), these prevention efforts help reduce the city's infection rate. Since October 2020, it has no longer had new confirmed cases," he stated.

    Taking into account this improving condition, Kamaruddin asserted that Sabang was a safe place for domestic and international travelers.

    Since November 2020, the Sabang city government has also allowed unconditional entry to travelers keen on visiting the coastal city by land.

    "We have no longer closed Sabang for locals and foreign tourists. However, they must, of course, abide by the government's health protocols," he stated.

    In facilitating the recovery of the city's tourism sector, Kamaruddin has appealed to the BPKS authority to lobby related authorities to help reopen Sabang for international cruise ships.

    "Health protocols must strictly be put in place. If tourists abide by the COVID-19 preventive measures, they are welcome," he asserted.

    Arrival of tourists, including those aboard the cruise ships, would also help boost the city's economic growth, he pointed out.

    Read: Potential Island Tourism in Aceh Attracts Investors from UAE