Equipped with selfie sticks, yellow caps and straw hats, Chinese tourists have returned to the Indonesian island of Bali after three years of isolation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A first contingent arrived at the end of January to enjoy the beaches of the “Island of the Gods” during the Lunar New Year holidays, after China reopened its borders last month.

“I’m particularly happy because I used to like traveling a lot, getting around to appreciate the landscapes, getting to know different people and cultures,” Li Zhao-long, a 28-year-old employee in the digital sector from New York, told AFP. Kunming, in the province of Yunnan (southwest of China).

“After three years, having the opportunity to come from China to Indonesia makes me very happy and satisfied,” he says.

The Chinese population endured three years of strict confinements and travel restrictions, imposed by Beijing’s “zero-Covid” policy, followed by a sudden about-face that caused a considerable wave of contamination.

A few hundred Chinese vacationers have so far arrived in Bali, thanks to the opening of a weekly direct flight between Shenzhen and the Hindu island. Four other airlines have filed applications for scheduled flights between Bali and China, according to Indonesian authorities.

Since 2020, due to the pandemic, the number of Chinese tourists in Bali has plummeted after the Indonesian and Chinese borders were closed to tourists.

Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said he expects a strong rebound and expects 253,000 Chinese tourists to the country this year.

The Balinese authorities, even more optimistic, hope for a return of two thirds of the 1.2 million Chinese tourists that the island welcomed before the pandemic, the second largest contingent after that of Australians.

The government is planning a campaign to market Bali as a paradise destination and expects Chinese tourist arrivals, which made up a fifth of visitors to the island, to return to normal in 2025.

In a mall in Denpasar, the Balinese capital, Dong Yi need not be persuaded of the beauties of Bali.

“From the moment I got off the plane, I felt the exceptional hospitality of the Balinese. I really like it here,” said the 47-year-old financier.

“In the future, I will come often.”

Li Zhao-long stresses that the pandemic has been “a difficult time” for him and his compatriots and that after a long wait of three years, “to simply be able to leave the country is a happy event”.

Relatively spared from Covid-19 at the cost of drastic measures, China is facing the largest wave of contamination since the start of the pandemic, when it is estimated that 80% of its population has been affected by the virus. .

While many countries, such as the United States, France, South Korea or Japan, have imposed restrictions on travelers from China, Indonesia has not taken any new measures, in addition to the obligation made to foreign visitors to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Balinese economy, hard hit by the collapse of tourism at the height of the pandemic, is still struggling to recover, with visitor flows still low.

But Elphan Situmorang, manager of a duty free shop, has regained hope of getting out of the crisis thanks to the reappearance of Chinese tourists, known as the biggest spenders.

“I hope more and more Chinese tourists will come to Bali for our business to resume,” he told AFP, adding that before the pandemic, 80% of his customers in the tourist area of ​​Kuta were Chinese.

“During the pandemic, with income reduced to zero (…) we had to lay off the staff,” he says.

Tourist operators are also showing optimism.

“We were really in pain. I lost 10 pounds, you can imagine how difficult it was,” said Anita, manager of a tourism agency at Bali International Airport. “But I’m sure we’ll bounce back.”

02/02/2023 10:44:00 –          Denpasar (Indonesia) (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP