A year on Bali without tourists


This story is a part of The Highway Forward, a collection that examines the way forward for journey and the way we’ll expertise the world after the pandemic.

Bali without worldwide vacationers was an unimaginable prospect in January 2019. The Indonesian island, identified for its lush vegetation, pristine seashores, and wealthy native tradition, has been a coveted vacation spot for guests from all around the world, from rich foreigners searching for ultra-luxurious resorts to backpackers in search of a wild weekend on the seashores of Kuta. In 2019, Bali’s airport acquired 6.2 million foreign visitors.

Over the earlier a long time, the island’s tourism infrastructure—and tourism economic system—has grown exponentially, reworking Bali from a secluded haven within the ’60s right into a busy (and generally gridlocked) vacation spot with some 4,300 accommodations and 100,000 lodge rooms. The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that the island (inhabitants 4.3 million) took in 53% of its income straight from journey in 2019; some estimates tie one other quarter not directly to tourism. Balinese staff who beforehand may need remained on household farms have flocked to the favored locations of Ubud, Seminyak, and Nusa Dua to turn out to be lodge staff, tour guides, masseuses, cooks, and memento distributors.

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[Photo: Jamie Fenn/Unsplash]

When the world stopped touring as a consequence of COVID-19, Bali’s tourism ecosystem was devastated. By the second quarter of 2020, all however 10% of the island’s excursions and journey suppliers had closed. Lodges that remained opened had been operating at lower than 10% occupancy. Some floor has been regained as rich Indonesians have visited, however whereas international locations’ worldwide borders stay closed, Bali’s financial engine is in idle. (The nation is reportedly planning to start permitting worldwide vacationers to go to Bali by the tip of July.)


That is the story of what occurred over the previous year on Bali, instructed by way of the voices of lodge common managers and house owners, taxi drivers, cooks, businesspeople, and expats on the island. And it’s not solely Bali’s story: Different locations, like Costa Rica, the place some 11.7% of staff rely on tourism, and Thailand’s island of Phuket have seen their sources of revenue dry up. Because the vaccine makes its manner across the globe, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. However for some folks, they nonetheless appear far off.

An island on maintain

Bali’s gone by way of these abrupt downturns prior to now, however nothing compares to this. With tourism, plenty of Balinese folks have prospered. A era or two again, locals had been the rank-and-file lodge workers. However then their youngsters have taken on jobs, not solely within the hospitality and cruise industries, but additionally as accountants, engineers, nurses, medical doctors, and so on. However [lately] I’ve seen vehicles and motorbikes on the facet of the highway with ‘on the market’ indicators on them. 

Ernst Ludick, common supervisor, Amankila resort in jap Bali

I’ve been a driver for greater than 20 years. Earlier than the coronavirus, my enterprise was good, I had plenty of clients who had been tourists, and I made sufficient cash. It was sufficient for me. I’ve been sitting at house doing nothing, no job, no work, nothing for a year now.

Made Wirata, taxi driver based mostly within the city of Ubud, a preferred tourism vacation spot

I used to be a tour information in Indonesia from 1997 to 2019, then I obtained a property in a village in North Bali the place visitors can keep, and I’ve been managing that. I work with the tour group G Adventures; they refer folks to remain at my lodge. I normally had three teams staying with me, largely from Europe and the U.S. It was going very properly. The final group that got here was in March 2020. After that, no extra guests. I misplaced every little thing final April. I misplaced my automotive. Banks had been being actually aggressive.

—Gede Sukayarsa, proprietor, Villa Bantes and Bulian Homestay in North Bali

After the Bali bombings [in 2002 and 2005, which killed locals as well as tourists], the island was quiet for a few months, then it step by step constructed again up once more. However that is the primary time the entire world has come to a grinding halt. This impacts everybody: taxi drivers, street-food distributors, the fellows that train browsing, the women providing massages on the seaside.

—Man Heywood, chief working officer, Six Senses resorts, (together with the Six Senses Uluwatu, in Bali) lived in Bali from 2010 to 2019, as chief working officer of Alila Lodges and Resorts


Layoffs and pay cuts

I labored as a enterprise improvement supervisor for a Singaporean firm that owns three properties in Bali. Earlier than the pandemic, we had plenty of tourists coming, particularly from America. Then in February [2020], all of our visitors began canceling. Our proprietor determined to chop our salaries in half, after which ultimately to shut all three properties. He instructed us that he may assist us for 3 months, after which after that, nobody would receives a commission, together with me. We couldn’t sue him or something like that. There usually are not sufficient employee protections in Indonesia.

Komang Agus Surya Kusuma, former lodge supervisor; now founding father of Kayoen Bakery within the capital metropolis of Denpasar

This has lasted for thus lengthy. We’re slipping on our financial institution repayments and we’re going by way of our financial savings.”

Made Wirata, taxi driver

This has lasted for thus lengthy. We’re slipping on our financial institution repayments and we’re going by way of our financial savings. I personal my automotive, which is sweet as a result of I wouldn’t be capable of make any mortgage funds now. I’ve two daughters and a spouse to assist. My spouse works at a restaurant and she or he makes much less cash than common proper now. Fortunately, I grew to become pals with a few of my former shoppers overseas, and so they have been in a position to spot me or lend me some cash.

Made Wirata, taxi driver

They began paying us half our wage and let some folks go. We went from 300 folks to 150. Dwelling on this wage has been exhausting for our household. We have now minimize all of our bills besides food and drinks. We’re nonetheless higher off than hundreds of individuals on the island who don’t have any cash in any respect after they misplaced their jobs. All of my household working in tourism has issues, although now we have just a few individuals who work for the federal government, to allow them to usher in some cash. The native authorities distributed some aid to households, like rice, oil, flour, and eggs each month for 3 or 4 months. That’s it.

—Igusti Agung Mahaputra, head chef at a Balinese surf resort

Managing by way of disaster

We have now a workers of roughly 70 folks throughout our eating places. We stored paying everybody. It was powerful. To assist our farmers, we made and offered veggie containers for folks to prepare dinner at house. It wasn’t an important enterprise mannequin, however it was a method to preserve these guys going. We had money movement for six months, however then six months handed, after which one other six months, after which one other six months. Fortunately, our workers is so small that we may make some strikes to generate a little bit of income. We did occasions on the seaside, pop-up eating places at completely different venues right here and in Jakarta.

Eelke Plasmeijer, chef and co-owner of the Locavore restaurant group in Ubud, which incorporates two eating places, a cocktail bar, a butcher store, and meals lab and testing kitchen 

We have now managed to outlive on home enterprise. We needed to impose some wage cuts for all of our [staff] and we needed to critically curb bills. We furloughed some folks, however we sort of rotated furloughs. The senior managers took the deepest [pay] cuts. The overall supervisor went unpaid for some time, however carried on working. The rank and file had the bottom cuts. In Bali, folks rely very closely on service cost. It’s 10% of revenue. And if there perhaps isn’t a lot revenue, it’s a double whammy.

—Man Heywood, Six Senses

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[Photo: Kharl Anthony Paica/Unsplash]

We have now a staff of 30, and we dedicated to not letting anybody go. We additionally opened our workers meals as much as any unemployed hospitality employee, as a result of everybody right here is unemployed. We cooked 15,000 meals final year, and we’re attempting to go as much as 10,000 a month now. We did a pop-up restaurant in [the resort village of] Canggu for six months, serving sandwiches and beer. We’re organizing on-line courses and promoting groceries. We did a fraction of our common quantity final year. If we are able to get well some vacationer commerce by this September, that might be improbable.

—Will Goldfarb, chef and proprietor, Room 4 Dessert, a high-end dessert bar in Ubud

Earlier than COVID-19, we had been a food-rescue group centered on tourism-related surplus meals. We collected buffet meals from 65 of the biggest accommodations throughout the islands, together with meals from occasions, like weddings. When COVID-19 hit, we noticed our meals disappear. However we discovered ourselves outfitted for dealing with the pandemic. We had 12 drivers, a number of food-carrying automobiles, cooler vehicles, custom-made motorbikes, hygienists, cooks. We launched our first rescue kitchen with rescued meals together with meals bought from native farms and suppliers, which might have in any other case gone to a landfill. From there, now we have grown. Now we work with giant firms, comparable to Nestlé, to gather meals that’s practically expired or broken items. In 2020, we supplied 1.5 million meals to the needy in Bali.

—D.J. Denton, supervisor, food-rescue nonprofit Scholars of Sustenance 

We had nearly 800 staff [across four hotels], and we let go of 90% of them. We needed to. Some governments overseas have helped companies, however we don’t have a system in place for it. Even after we let go of 90% of the workers, we nonetheless needed to pay water and electrical energy payments, and we aren’t getting any assist. I’m principally not taking a wage. Virtually 100% of my enterprise is funded by financial institution loans. As a result of the enterprise has completed properly in earlier years, the financial institution took that into consideration and gave me a very good take care of the compensation scheme. I’ve been in a position to deliver 20% to 30% of my staff again as contractors with a 50% discount in wage. All the accommodations are discounting their rooms, like 50% or 70% off. I’m telling you, you’ll be able to keep at a luxurious resort for $100 an evening.

—I Nyoman Suwamana Wahyu Putra, proprietor, Dijiwa Sanctuaries, which incorporates 4 accommodations

Getting by (and never getting by)

I used to have 11 folks working with me, however now I’ve just one upkeep individual. I’ve made a brand new enterprise making natural drinks with ginger and turmeric and promoting them at markets. I taught a few of my former staff how you can make them in order that they will additionally promote them. I even have a rooster farm, however it’s not sufficient. None of that is sufficient. My pals who’re tour guides are all attempting to alter jobs.

—Gede Sukayarsa, Villa Bantes and Bulian Homestay


I used to be driving round east Bali yesterday and I simply began crying. I used to be in Ubud and seeing every little thing closed was so unhealthy. It feels hopeless.”

Gede Sukayarsa, proprietor, Villa Bantes and Bulian Homestay

A lot of [laid-off] persons are promoting greens to attempt to earn cash. Persons are promoting what they will: They only park their vehicles on the road and go away them on the market. However I don’t see anybody shopping for this stuff. I don’t see anyone who has the cash to purchase something. A lot of my pals have gone again to their villages to farm or fish and promote what they will, however everyone seems to be dropping the costs, so they’re promoting what they develop for very low cost.

I Gusti Agung Mahaputra, chef

Persons are slowly returning to employment right here, for decrease salaries, in fact. A minimal wage right here is historically round 3 million rupiah a month—round $210. In order that’s $210 for full-time, six-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day employment. Right now that’s thought of a very good job. So if we’re speaking a couple of decrease revenue than this, you’re down round lower than $5 a day.

—D.J. Denton, Students of Sustenance

Most of my former staff are taking or attempting to take blue-collar jobs. They’re doing what they will. A lot of them purchased issues with loans, like bikes, and now they’re attempting to promote them. The federal government helps a few of them, sending, like, $50 a month for 3 or six months. It’s not sufficient, particularly in case you have a household.

I Nyoman Suwamana Wahyu Putra, Dijiwa Sanctuaries

[After being laid off from a hotel], I requested my pals who had misplaced their jobs what they had been doing. They had been all beginning companies simply to outlive. On some streets there are rows of parked vehicles the place persons are promoting ready meals, rice, eggs, flour. My pal had his personal small bakery, so I labored with him for just a few months after which began my very own bakery. The enterprise was going properly till the final three months. Possibly it’s as a result of persons are operating out of cash. Some folks have already offered every little thing, like their home, to outlive.

Komang Agus Surya Kusuma, Kayoen Bakery 

A lot of individuals [who worked in tourism areas] have been pressured again into the villages of northern Bali, the place they arrive from. The infrastructure of these villages is unable to assist the inflow. So we’re coping with meals insecurity on a big scale. We’re doing the very best that we are able to to find the folks within the biggest want and assist them by way of the donation of nutritious meals. We provide a care bundle with dry items, contemporary greens, and perhaps canned meats and that sort of factor. We even have 4 rescue kitchens throughout the island, doing anyplace between 3,000 to 12,000 free meals per day.

—D.J. Denton, Students of Sustenance 

The worst factor is malnutrition setting in. So we fundraise for high-nutrition milk, and have arrange meals containers in 11 supermarkets in Bali the place folks can drop off meals. However it’s no good simply to maintain supplying meals. It’s not sustainable. The following stage is to have interaction a few of the those who we had been feeding within the course of [of creating food]. We’re working on that in the mean time. We began a program of aquaponics [a self-sustaining system where people use buckets and cups to grow and farm fish at home].

Robert Epstone, founding father of the nonprofit Yayasan Solemen Indonesia, which addresses poverty on Bali

Empty streets

Earlier than once you went to Ubud or any metropolis, the roads had been very crowded. Now they’re empty. I hope it will get higher in a few months. Most of my pals work with tourists, and since there aren’t any tourists, plenty of them have gone house to villages. They stick with their households and might’t discover work. Individuals get round on motorbikes, however lots of people purchased them on debt, and now they’re attempting to promote them. But when they promote them, they will’t go anyplace.

Made Wirata, taxi driver

From a sustainability perspective, [the pandemic] has been perhaps just a little little bit of a breather for Bali. There have been water shortages in southern Bali and the highway system is bursting on the seams due to the quantity of improvement. And there’s been an enormous quantity of air pollution. The tempo of improvement on Bali during the last 15 to twenty years has simply utterly outstretched the flexibility for the federal government to remain on high of the infrastructure wanted.

—Man Heywood, Six Senses

For some months, you haven’t even seen any taxis anyplace. Persons are saying that is what it was like right here 30 years in the past.”

Ernst Ludick, common supervisor, Amankila

It obtained so quiet, however it was truly actually lovely. Bali was getting out of hand, there was an excessive amount of of every little thing, a lot site visitors. This year it grew to become a extremely lovely place. It obtained actually inexperienced and vibrant, and you would nonetheless go to the seashores. It’s a pleasant place to stay, so long as your corporation isn’t tourism.

Eelke Plasmeijer, Locavore eating places

As you drive on the most of the principal roads, you’ve obtained these two- and three-story store homes. They’re largely empty, and ‘for lease’ indicators in every single place. And there are all these half-finished buildings. Now they’re simply standing idle. Ubud was once 4 folks astride on every sidewalk, and the entire city at gridlock as taxis seemed for fares. For some months, you haven’t even seen any taxis anyplace. Persons are saying that is what it was like right here 30 years in the past.

—Ernst Ludick, Amankila

I used to be driving round east Bali yesterday and I simply began crying. I used to be in Ubud, and seeing every little thing closed was so unhealthy. It feels hopeless.

—Gede Sukayarsa, Villa Bantes and Bulian Homestay

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[Photo: Christopher Alvarenga/Unsplash]

The expat equation

There’s an enormous neighborhood of foreigners residing in Bali. Many have clothes, jewellery, or housewares manufacturing companies, or they run eating places or shops. You may stay fairly cheaply and have an important high quality of life.

—Man Heywood, Six Senses

There was just a little utopia in [the town of Canggu], the place all of the foreigners which can be residing on the island have been hanging round. I keep away from it just like the plague. They’re the too-cool-for-school crowd: damned in the event that they’ll be seen carrying a masks. The bars and golf equipment there have been packed. However cops are in there now, principally threatening folks with deportation in the event that they don’t comply [with COVID-19 safety protocols].

—Ernst Ludick, Amankila

Canggu is principally a digital nomad’s paradise: low cost, wholesome meals; lovely seashores; good waves.”

D.J. Denton, supervisor, Students of Sustenance

Fortunately, the resort the place I work at had some folks coming for long-term stays, like three or 4 months, so we had been in a position to keep open. Our landlord is Balinese, however the proprietor is American and tapped into the expat neighborhood in Indonesia, and might get them to take surf classes or come and keep. A lot of these folks have jobs they will do utilizing simply the web. We’re doing every little thing we are able to to maintain them, simply to maintain them coming to the resort.

I Gusti Agung Mahaputra, chef

Canggu is principally a digital nomad’s paradise: low cost, wholesome meals; lovely seashores; good waves. The Indonesian authorities is working on making a digital-nomad visa that might permit folks to return right here long-term. The federal government is now speaking about not going again to the identical quantity of tourism that was taking place pre-COVID-19. You may see the repercussions of it on such a small island. We have now a waste downside. We had been dealing with a water scarcity. These issues have all gone down due to COVID-19. The division of tourism is now speaking concerning the high quality of tourists: anyone who will come right here long-term and with a gradual supply of revenue.

—D.J. Denton, Students of Sustenance

Courting Indonesians

We’ve pivoted to enchantment to a home viewers. There’s a good sum of money that’s churning inside the confines of Bali. Expats who’re residing [in Bali] can’t journey house or outdoors of Indonesia. After which, in fact, you’ve obtained rich Indonesians. They may usually go to Australia or Europe or elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Now they wish to spend a few weeks hanging out in Bali, reasonably than be beneath lockdown in Jakarta.

—Man Heywood, Six Senses

There’s a big amount of rich Indonesians. The speed at which they’re creating billionaires is now faster than China’s. In December, plenty of Indonesians who would have been abroad, staying at an Aman in Japan or in America, they got here right here as an alternative. It’s individuals who have type of [thought], ‘been there and completed that,’ in terms of Bali. However now they’ve obtained no different alternative, so that they’re coming again.

—Ernst Ludick, Amankila

Once we reopened, we stored our common menu designed to serve foreigners who had been visiting Bali: It was all about greens. We obtained the worst suggestions ever from locals, so we modified to focus on animal protein, like beef, which they like much more.

—Eelke Plasmeijer, Locavore eating places

Native folks don’t need the identical meals as tourists. Some farmers had been rising produce like rocket [arugula] and romaine for an trade that simply doesn’t exist proper now. Indonesian folks, we don’t eat so many salads. [Arugula] lettuce farmers are simply throwing that stuff away as a result of no one eats it.

—I Gusti Agung Mahaputra, chef 

Wanting forward

We are able to’t go on like this for for much longer, it’s not sustainable. I’ve heard that the federal government doesn’t wish to focus on mass tourism, they need high quality tourism or luxurious tourism: fewer folks, who will spend extra. However now we have plenty of cheaper accommodations and shops which can be struggling. I strive to not cease and take into consideration every little thing going on. If I cease, I simply assume, what are we doing? How can we go on with this? Bali was among the finest locations to run a restaurant and now it’s one of many worst locations on the earth.

—Eelke Plasmeijer, Locavore eating places

I strive to not cease and take into consideration every little thing going on. If I cease, I simply assume, what are we doing? How can we go on with this? ”

—Eelke Plasmeijer, chef and c0-owner, Locavore eating places

Who is aware of how lengthy it’ll take earlier than issues really come again. We’ve obtained three inexperienced zones nominated [as COVID-19–free areas that could receive international travel in July], however [the government] hasn’t actually defined the implementation of that but. And it’s not clear who’s going to return anyway. Possibly Singaporeans? We don’t anticipate Australians till in all probability subsequent year, perhaps this October. Japan and Korea: neglect about it. We’re not anticipating too many Individuals or British tourists, who was once our bread and butter. It’s all the time been a boon for a lodge to have long-haul markets as your high markets. The one time that doesn’t work is once you’re in the course of a pandemic.

—Ernst Ludick, Amankila

My son simply graduated from tourism college and had a very good job working in Kuta. He was laid off when the pandemic hit and now has a really low-paying job in a café. I don’t know if he’ll be capable of work in tourism. When enterprise comes again, they may wish to rehire the skilled folks first.

—Gede Sukayarsa, Villa Bantes and Bulian Homestay

I believe the vacationers will come again, I’m an optimist. The issue is that there’s a value conflict for every little thing—bicycles, lodge rooms—as a result of there’s extra provide than demand. I don’t know if I’ll return to hospitality.

—Komang Agus Surya Kusuma, Kayoen Bakery