Pandemic to paradise: Chinese tourists return to Bali after three years

DENPASAR, Indonesia: Donning yellow “Bali” hats featuring a surfer as the last letter, Chinese tourists walked along the Indonesian backpacker hotspot’s pristine blue waters, forgetting three years of COVID-19 misery.

Exploring turtle island, taking day trips to neighbouring Lombok and hitting Bali’s famed beaches, the world’s biggest-spending tourists were back after the Chinese New Year festivities kicked off and Beijing reopened to the world last month.

“I am especially happy to travel because, before the pandemic, I was someone who liked to travel a lot, going all over to see the sights, experience different cultures and people,” Li Zhao-long, a 28-year-old Internet company worker from Kunming in southwest Yunnan province, told AFP.

“Three years on, being able to come from China to Indonesia, I am extremely happy and overjoyed.”

Chinese holidaymakers have endured years of lockdowns and travel restrictions driven by Beijing’s fervent pursuit of its zero-COVID policy, followed by a sudden reopening and accompanying spike in infections.

Now, a lucky few armed with selfie sticks and clad in tropical shirts and straw hats are on long-awaited getaways to the Island of Gods.

In recent years, Chinese visitor numbers to Bali plunged after both countries closed their borders at the height of the pandemic.

But Indonesia’s tourism minister said that Jakarta was aiming for a massive rebound from those lows, and estimated the country would welcome 253,000 Chinese tourists this year.

Balinese officials are even more bullish, hoping for the return of two-thirds of the 1.2 million Chinese visitors who came to the island pre-pandemic – making them the second biggest group of tourists behind Australians.

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