Riau alarmed as Zika spreads in Singapore
Recent cases of Zika in Singapore have caused concern among the people of Riau Islands, who rely on foreign currency from visitors transiting in the province.
Those traveling to Batam, Bintan and Karimun usually transit there.
The chairman of the Batam branch of the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (Asita Batam), Andika, said the impacts of warnings issued by Taiwan, South Korea and Australia against traveling to Singapore would be felt within the next 15 days.
“The impact is not being felt yet because the warnings have only just been issued,” Andika, who runs VIP tour and travel agency, Batam, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
He said tourists from the countries that issued travel warnings would initially still go to Singapore because they had paid for their bookings, but those who had not paid yet would reconsider going to Singapore.
Andika said South Koreans and Taiwanese were potential tourists for Batam and other regions in the province.
“We hope Singapore can quickly handle the virus problem because the longer it takes, the more difficult it will be to address the problem here,” Andika said.
Meanwhile since Monday, the Health Ministry has prepared 139 port medics stationed at eight seaports serving routes to Singapore from Batam, Bintan and Karimun in anticipation of passengers with Zika entering the country.
As such, passengers coming from Singapore are obliged to undergo a thermal scan to measure their respective body temperatures.
They are also given health alert cards following the finding that 41 people had contracted Zika in Singapore.
The head of Riau Islands Tourism Agency, Guntur Sakti, assured that a Zika outbreak in Singapore would impact tourism in the province because 99 percent of some 2 million foreign tourist visiting the region annually came through Singapore.
“Moreover, among the countries issuing the travel warnings were South Korea and Taiwan, the province’s potential tourism markets,” Guntur said.
He said the province’s target to have 2.6 million foreign arrivals this year was unlikely to be achieved because of a number of issues that deterred tourists from visiting.
Providing examples, Guntur said the province had been rocked by bomb threats in July, followed by a foiled terrorist attack in August and now the Zika scare from Singapore.
“These issues have made foreign arrivals in the province fall far below that expected,” Guntur said.
He added that the number of foreign arrivals in the province in the first half of this year was only 970,000, far below the targeted 1.3 million.
“Considering the numerous aspects influencing foreign arrivals, I am pessimistic that the target will be realized,” said Guntur.
Last year, Guntur added, 2.03 million tourists visited, almost reaching the 2.1 million target.
“The target would have been achieved or even exceeded if the haze disaster hadn’t happened,” Guntur said, adding that Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indians, Taiwanese and South Koreans were the five top foreign arrivals in the province.