Belitung’s international tourism dreams dashed with termination of Singapore flights

Belitung, a new alternative to Bintan for Singaporeans seeking getaway

The cessation of Garuda Indonesia’s four-times-weekly services between Singapore and Belitung has not only dashed the Indonesian island’s fledgling ambitions for international traffic, but also resulted in loss of business within the travel trade.

Matius Putrawan, CEO of Kasih Karunia Tour, reported that bookings from overseas fell more than 80 per cent since the loss of the Singapore connection.

The flights allowed Belitung to be sold as a new alternative to Bintan for Singaporeans seeking getaways

“From January to March, we had around 300 international travellers. The number has fallen drastically to only 14 since April,” he said.

His efforts to leverage the flights to sell new packages will also be in vain now. “I was planning to develop the Chinese market by selling China-Singapore-Belitung tour packages. I had (made sales calls) to several travel agents in China earlier this year.”

Yudianto Evan Setiawan, director of Billitonesia Tour, is having to cope with similar loss of business.

“A few groups were planning to visit Belitung in June and July, but this (service) closure inevitably made them cancel their trip and we lost the business.”

Without a direct link, Singapore and overseas clients are now “thinking twice” about selling Belitung, as domestic flights via Jakarta are more expensive, he added.

“At this moment, the dream to make Belitung an international destination is broken,” Yudianto said.

Even though demand tends to be slow in the first six months of introducing a new product, he has seen “pretty good response” the the past months. “We might have just introduced products last November, but we already received several tour groups from Singapore during February-April.”

In the absence of direct flights from Singapore, his clients in Singapore and overseas are thinking twice about selling Belitung. The alternate route is through Jakarta, but it is not favoured due to being time-consuming and relatively expensive.

Now, the travel trade is looking to LCCs to possibly pick up where Garuda left off. “We’re relying on AirAsia, which is said to launch flights from Kuala Lumpur in August. Hopefully the regional government will materialise the cooperation with AirAsia,” Yudianto expressed.

Following Garuda’s termination of the route, Isyak Meirobie, deputy regent of Belitung, has moved quickly to meet with several airlines, including AirAsia and Jetstar. “The biggest obstacle in growing Belitung’s tourism lies in access. Garuda’s termination of the Belitung-Singapore flight routes has (disappointed) the industry, “said Isyak in a media statement.

The regional government of Belitung also gained audience with Moeldoko, the chief of staff of president, in hopes the central government would help ensure smooth issuance of flight permits for AirAsia and Jetstar.

If everything goes to plan, AirAsia will start Kuala Lumpur-Belitung-Jakarta route from August 8, 2019, while the regional government expects to welcome Jetstar’s Singapore-Belitung services after July.

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