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Bali has been hit hard by the pandemic, like most of the world’s tourism-based economies. The Indonesian island has faced disasters before — the 2002 and 2005 terrorist attacks, and 2017 eruption of Mount Agung, Bali’s tallest and most sacred volcano — but these disruptions have been eclipsed by the social and economic impact of Covid-19.
Although various international media outlets have reported that around 80% of Bali’s economy is drawn from tourism, it is closer to 58% according to Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency. However, this figure is quite difficult to determine accurately, as thousands across the province — both Balinese and Indonesians from elsewhere in the country — work informally.
When the Indonesian government suspended international tourist arrivals at the end of March 2020, the livelihoods of thousands — including many foreigners who call Bali home — were immediately impacted. Some Balinese tourism workers had no choice but to return to their ancestral villages and pick up farming or fishing to put food on the table, while others pivoted to running their own small businesses online. The economic losses have been unprecedented, with Bali’s economy contracting by almost 10% in the first quarter of 2021.
Over the past 18 months, Bali has changed in myriad ways. The pandemic has prompted citizens and the local government to pause and reflect on the future of the island’s tourism industry — and what needs to change. Where once the focus was on mass tourism and achieving increasingly higher annual tourist targets, the conversation has now shifted to the need for “quality tourism.”
Generally, the provincial and central governments see quality tourism as tourism that contributes more to the economy while having less of an impact on the environment and social norms. To put it simply, a “quality tourist” is one who stays for longer and contributes to more locally-owned businesses, from accommodation to food to travel services.
Compare this type of tourism to package tourism, where a tour group stays for just a few days and only visits businesses according to a schedule determined by one company, which may or may not be locally-owned. Many Balinese recall the hour-long traffic jams caused by oversized tour buses, and despite the pandemic’s devastating economic impact, they do not want the tourism situation to go back to how it was before.
With the government’s new focus on quality over quantity, it will come as no surprise to some that digital nomads and remote workers have been identified as an ideal market to contribute to the recovery of Bali’s tourism industry. Although the figure is difficult to determine, some sources state that there were 5,000 digital nomads in Bali in 2019, the highest number in Southeast Asia.
Just months after the suspension of foreign tourist arrivals, some Balinese business owners commented that digital nomads who had remained on the island were helping Bali’s economy, with one saying, “even if it’s just a little bit, we are grateful.”
Although a long-stay Indonesian visa for digital nomads and remote workers is yet to be finalized, local politicians and central government ministries are working towards establishing one, and the proposal has received support from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.
Tourism and hospitality associations and members of the private sector have also expressed their support. They often cite the fact that digital nomads stay much longer in Bali compared to leisure tourists, and that the island has already established its reputation as a globally recognized destination for remote workers. Members of the public and private sector have also noted that other countries have already started offering long-stay visas for remote workers, and that Indonesia should not be left behind.
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the government’s commitment to establishing a remote worker visa is its “Work From Bali” campaign. Launched in May 2021 as an effort to support the island’s battered economy, the program entailed 8,000 civil servants across nine Indonesian ministries relocating to the island to conduct their work.
The campaign also encouraged Indonesian remote workers and entrepreneurs to base themselves in Bali, and many heeded the call. After the program’s first two months, Indonesia’s central bank reported that Work From Bali had contributed to increasing room occupancy rates and economic growth
Although initially targeting Indonesian citizens, Work From Bali — which was temporarily suspended due to Indonesia’s community activity restrictions (PPKM) — was seen as the first major step towards preparing the island for reopening, and firmly establishing it as an ideal destination for remote workers, both Indonesian and international.
A group of international academics have even suggested five steps that local authorities can take to turn Bali into a “Zoom island” for global remote workers. They include expanding internet connectivity; allowing longer-term visas; introducing incentives and specialized services; targeting millennials in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM); and aiming for a fully-vaccinated island.
Although July 2021 had been slated for the reopening of Bali’s international tourism industry, this did not eventuate due to PPKM. However, the tourism sector and the provincial government have been working hard to prepare the island for welcoming back foreign travelers.
A major part of preparations is reaching the province’s vaccination target of 70% of the population, which is just over 3 million people. To speed up reopening, Bali has been prioritized in the nation’s vaccination drive, and is now Indonesia’s most vaccinated province.
The Bali government has also designated three “green zones” on the island: Ubud (where two of our Outpost destinations are located), Sanur, and Nusa Dua. These districts have been prioritized for vaccination, with the goal of making them as safe as possible for when the island reopens.
Overall, Balinese people have been extremely enthusiastic about being vaccinated, and distribution has been remarkably efficient, mostly due to two factors: the banjar system and the participation of the tourism and hospitality sector.
The banjar system is unique to Bali. It is the lowest level of local government, and could be called the “social architecture” that keeps Balinese so deeply connected to their local community. Almost every Balinese is a member of a banjar, of which there are 4,678 across the province. Each has its own pavilion, which is where meetings, traditional dance and music rehearsals, ceremony preparations — and mass vaccinations are held.
The tourism sector also stepped up to vaccinate as many tourism workers as possible, with dozens of hotels and resorts offering their properties as vaccination venues. Bali Hotels Association has teamed up with the Indonesian Tourism & Creative Economy Ministry to produce this Covid-19 information platform for the island, which includes up to date vaccination rates and international tourist arrival regulations.
To standardize Covid-19 health and safety protocol, the Indonesian government established Cleanliness, Health, Safety & Environment (CHSE) certification, and thousands of businesses across the island have been certified, from hotels to transport providers.
On 14 October, Bali reopened to fully vaccinated international arrivals from several countries, and the list was soon expanded to 19 countries. They are Bahrain, China, France, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates.
Currently, international travelers are required to show a negative PCR test result prior to departure and on arrival in Bali, along with their vaccination certificates (one dose is sufficient). They are also required to have travel insurance with coverage up to USD100,000, and for the policy to include treatment for Covid-19. More information about the Indonesian government’s travel policies can be viewed here. Once they’ve arrived in Bali, travelers must quarantine for two nights at one of the selected hotels. The list of quarantine hotels can be viewed here.
There hasn’t yet been any indication from the Indonesian government about how long these travel policies will be in place, or when other countries will be added to the list. We will update this post and let our members know when the situation changes. In the meantime, rest assured that when you do make it to Bali, the province’s vaccination rates will be even closer to the target, even more businesses will be CHSE-certified, and Balinese people will be ready to welcome you as warmly as ever.
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