Smog stalls Kalimantan travel

JAKARTA, 20 September 2019: As forest fires spread across Kalimantan and Riau in Indonesia, travellers are cancelling trips fearing unhealthy air pollution levels according to the country’s Tourism Ministry’s crisis centre.

Tourism officials are recommending travellers who have booked a trip to Kalimantan and Riau to switch to other destinations in Indonesia outside the forest fire zone.

Riau, a province in central-eastern Sumatra facing the Malacca Straits that separate Indonesia from Malaysia and Singapore, had over 2,000 hot spots earlier this week. Most of them were blamed on corporations clearing land for palm oil plantations.

Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of Borneo Island taking up 73% of the landmass with the rest in East Malaysia and Brunei. The current Indonesian government has said it is considering moving the national capital to Kalimantan in the future.

Air quality index scores reached critical levels across the region with unhealthy levels recorded in Singapore and Malaysia. Experts said due to prevailing winds the smog from forest fires particularly in Riau on Sumatra island could eventually spread north to parts of South Thailand.

At the weekend the AQI reached 500 in some areas well beyond the most hazard zone recognised by AQI monitors.

A Jakarta Post report confirmed, “many foreign tourists who booked travel packages to Indonesia have reportedly cancelled their plans because of forest fires in Kalimantan and Riau.”

Most of the cancellations were reported in Malaysia and Singapore. Riau is a popular destination for Malaysian tour groups.

The tourism ministry’s crisis centre reported cancellations from Singapore while the Jakarta Post said a group of 18 Malaysian golfers had postponed their trip to the archipelago which would cost the Riau up to Rp 75 million in revenue.

An official at the tourist office in Riau confirmed the regional administration had temporarily closed tourist attractions around the affected areas.

The official word to travellers planning to visit Riau is to choose another destination in Indonesia.