Covid-19 & The Island: Words with Bali’s Tourism Industry

On The Frontline | Written By, Life on the Island |

With tourism at a dead end in Bali, NOW! Bali speaks to some industry leaders to hear their insights and thoughts on the Covid-19 situation.

Looking to hear from different sides of the industry, we hear from the board of the Bali Hotels Association, as well as Jack Daniels, owner Bali Discovery Tours,and the editor of highly informative The Bali Update weekly newsletter.

Do you think that Bali was prepared for yet another crisis? if not what should the authorities have done but didn’t?

Bali Hotels Association (BHA):Bali was moderately prepared. It is an unprecedented crisis that has affected the whole world, there were no references available on how to best deal with this type of situation.

An action to create a crisis management centre should has been taken a lot sooner to provide information and prevention for public.

Jack Daniels (JD):  While much ado has been made in the past of plans to pursue specific geographical markets and market segment ranging from MICE to weddings to sport tourism, any objective and factual review of the record would show that, in fact, Bali’s leadship plays little role in guiding its own tourism fortunes and destiny. Bali tourism has always “gone with flow” and passively serves, as best it can, whatever markets present themselves at the Island’s doorway. Does Bali truly target and develop markets? I think that might be an overly generous and slightly delusional view of reality. A case in point, is the Chinese market that was already in sharp decline when the COVID-19 crisis began.

Accordingly, to suggest Bali tourism somehow manages a crisis is arguable. Bali traditionally rides turbulence in the marketplace not unlike a person sitting on a rollercoaster who is hanging on for dear life, praying for the ride to soon be over.

Was the response that happened good, was enough done?

JD: The reaction of the national tourism hierarchy to the COVID-19 crisis while well-intentioned, was in many ways comical and emblematic of the trial and error approach and numerous false-starts characteristic of tourism planning in these parts.

Jump on the roller coaster, hang on, and I try to review what actually happened. Bali was already badly mismanaging the ever declining trend in Chinese tourists arrivals that began in 2019, wrongly identifying Bali as the “victim” in the “zero dollar” racketeering schemes to serve Chinese tourists instead of truly addressing what was at the root of the problem: a failure to protect the consumer rights and basic interest of the victimised and highly abused visiting Chinese visitors.

No sooner were the unquestioning stakeholders in Bali tourism packing their bags for State-subsidised sales call in distant lands when, lo and behold, the Covid-19 crisis widened to envelop the whole world. With international borders being closed and airlines everywhere cancelling flights, any question of the value of sales calls to overseas destinations was made moot as major international travel fairs were cancelled and international travel ground to a halt.. Next, following conventional wisdom in what was clearly an unprecedented and very unconventional situation, the Government then made another misstep and decided to extend a multi-month holiday on paying hotel and restaurant taxes in 10 leading national tourism destinations. With those same tourism destinations now devoid of tourist visitors, a tax holiday on non-existent tourist paying non-existent hotels became a painfully obvious non-starter of no importance. To the Ministry’s credit, it has admitted its initial missteps and has now pledged to create “more relevant’ stimulus steps to aid a national tourism industry brought to its knees. We live in hope.

Business has completely disappeared for all hotels, restaurants, malls, clubs, parks… everyone. What should be done to aid recovery?

BHA: We have made some recommendations very early and we believe that it is not the time right now to talk about recovery yet. So much is out of our hands as this is a world pandemic and not a local issue. We could dream of rebuilding a more “quality” tourism, but the reality will force Bali, Indonesia and the entire world to be pragmatic and to take what comes in terms of business, especially at the beginning.

BHA Marketing Advisor, Jean-Charles Le Coz has confirmed that BHA has a social media campaign called  60 days of bringing Bali to you virtually where our key message is Bali will warmly welcome you back as soon as it possible to travel again.  Not hard sell at all. Just a way to bring a bit of Bali to everyone at home, wherever home is.

JD: To stick with my analogy, it may be impossible to steer a roller coaster, but at the same time we can certainly better position national tourism to understand what is actually happening in order to understand future developments, identify global trends as they happen, and plot Indonesian tourism recovery in the “new normal” in a world afflicted with Covid-19. Let me begin by underlining that I think Indonesia is lucky to have some outstanding corporate and academic minds at its disposal. Unfortunately, planning and strategising is all-too-often left to over enthusiastic amateurs without referencing the bountiful intellectual resources at its disposal. In fact, many of Indonesia’s sharpest and best minds would contribute their services on a volunteer basis if only called upon to join a “gotong royong” think tank to formulate tourism strategy.

The old models of tourism planning may have no relevance in the future. However, a “tourism think tank” organised into separate compartmentalised areas of expertise could monitor the every-changing situation. Some of the sub-sectors to which Indonesia could delegate to the attention of its best minds include: comparative analysis of how leading international tourism destinations are reopening their borders and moving towards normalisation; understanding the implications for Indonesia of what is almost certain to be changed international and regional aviation industry; and an inward-looking SWOT and MOST analysis of Indonesia tourism to ensure it not only survives but prevails in the years ahead. Prior to the Coronavirus crisis, many key elements of Indonesian tourism were already in critical condition. A misdirected urge to return Indonesian tourism to its pre-COVID-19 footing could ironically prove to be an inadvertent plan for a relapse into a new crisis for the national travel industry.

What should be done now to assist those who are struggling both the employees and the employers? 

BHA : A relief on all that is provided directly or indirectly by the central and regional governments such as waiving or heavily reducing the water and energy bills, allowing companies to suspend payments of all compulsory benefits (national health insurance (BPJS Kesehatan), national work insurance and pension (Jamsostek), etc), and postponing or cancelling tax payments.  

Coordinating efforts by all private and public entities to find out which individuals are really facing difficulties and helping them. The usual donation and asking for help and support for everybody is just a total waste of time and resources as it  very seldom lands on the ones that need it the most.  

BHA has updated and insured that all its members are aware of any government programs which can assist our members and anyone in need at this time being. Our Government Relations Director, Fransiska Handoko has been very busy together with the BHA secretariat team to ensure that all information which we send to our members are verified, official and confirmed by the related official government institutions due to there is a lot of hoax information out there.

JD: The Government’s steps to provide a social umbrella  to workers and a safety net is laudable and much needed. Unfortunately, some of these programs are being skewed locally by politicians to only provide assistance to Balinese holding provincial ID cards. This ignores that the place of origin for the local tourism work force in Bali that has evolved, for better or worse, to hail from every part of the Republic. For this reason, any safety-net policies must be made to include and assist all the Island’s tourism workers regardless of their place of birth. In the long term, and it may pain many to hear this, but the current crisis may provide opportunities to shrink the total number of rooms now available for sale on the Island to a more manageable number within the physical and financial carrying capacity of what is almost certain to be a smaller tourism industry in the near and medium term.

Looking to the future, how long will it be till the island is back to “normal”? Will it be the same as before?

JD: Any recovery is certain to be slow and phased over time. Hopefully, we will achieve the ability to identify correctly and act wisely on the challenges ahead, perhaps redefining a “better normal along the way.” Bali’s future generations deserves no less.

Like it not, almost certainly not. But with a great deal of wisdom and strategic planning it can be a better place than where we found ourselves before the current crisis.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MONTHLY NEWSLETTER TO GET THE LATEST UPDATES.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE

Leave a Comment