‘Bali is reopening, but we can’t get there’

One Perth-based tourism operator who did not want to be identified told The Australian Financial Review, “Bali is opening, but we can’t get there.”

Dick Chandler, the founder of marine tourism business Bali Hai Cruises, is similarly exasperated.

He said Indonesia’s decision to ease border controls was a “small light at the end of a long tunnel” after Bali was cut off from international tourists in early 2020.

But the five-day quarantine period would slow down the return of international tourists to Bali, and Premier Mark McGowan’s hard border has effectively stopped Western Australians from travelling there.

“Until Mr McGowan starts to be realistic about border restrictions, the Western Australian market is going to be somewhat curtailed,” Mr Chandler said.

“I’d like to see some realism. The world is going to have to live with COVID one way or another and I’d like to see West Australians act as Australians, not as an island within an island.”

Although its headquarters are in Perth, Bali Hai Cruises operates day cruises to Lembongan Island, 26 kilometres off the coast of Bali, where it also runs a resort that employed 490 locals before COVID-19.

Mr Chandler last visited the island in March 2020 to celebrate 30 years in business and has not been able to return since.

Burning through earnings

Bali Hai Cruises stood down 420 staff and has kept on 70 to continue to maintain the business, which has burnt through about $6 million of retained earnings to keep the company afloat during the crisis.

Chris Golding, who owns Perth-based business Dream Weddings in Bali, is supportive of Mr McGowan’s decision to keep the state’s borders closed.

“I have family and friends in the US, in the UK, and they’ve been devastated over there by what’s happened,” he said.

“We’ve been very well protected here and we need to stay protected, especially with omicron causing problems in the eastern states.”

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief Dean Long welcomed the announcement from Bali but said the number of visitors would not return to pre-pandemic levels until the quarantine requirement on entry was removed.

“Any quarantine acts as an immediate disincentive, especially when you can have a similar experience without the need to quarantine for that length of time in places like Fiji or Queensland,” he said.

A Jetstar spokeswoman said the airline was waiting for more details from the Indonesian government about specific entry and quarantine requirements before adding more flights.

“Once we have clarity, we will provide an update if there are any changes to our Bali flights, which are currently scheduled to take off from Melbourne and Sydney in early March,” she said.