In A Nutshell. To curb the spread of the corona virus, many countries have at the time of writing imposed social distancing restrictions, strongly affecting the travel & tourism sectors. While a luxury for travellers, tourism is the primary source of income for many locals in Indonesia. Their incomes have been wiped off by as much as 100%, and they have not had the luxury to make savings, receive little government support at best, and the end of the pandemic is not in sight. A financial catastrophe is emerging for the voiceless.
In this article we show the economic devastation of the corona pandemic for the communities in Indonesia depending on tourism, and provide a platform for those who want to help.
How the Corona Pandemic
Devastates Local Communities
Among the hardest hits sectors of the global corona-restrictions is the travel industry, which many developing countries such as Indonesia strongly depend on. The economic consequences have triggered the most basic fears in local communities in Indonesia as some are already struggling to feed their families.
Poster with information about the closure of Tanjung Puting National Park, one of the best destinations in the world to see orangutans. The many visitors not only brings many locals out of poverty, a stronger local tourism industry also gives more leverage against palm oil deforestation.
How has the coronavirus impacted the local communities in Indonesia?
One way to answer this question is to look at how the corona pandemic has deteriorated business in the travel sector in Indonesia. We were not able to find official data, so let’s have a look at our own data from Local Guides showing the aggregate impact in the destinations we offer tours, including Bali, Borneo, Flores, Sulawesi and Sumatra.
FIGURE 1. Number of tours in 2020 relative to the historical average. Since EU member states placed travel restrictions in Mid March, the number of clients has dropped by 100% until the time of writing.
In the first few weeks of 2020 – as the virus was already known to be spreading within Wuhan/China – the number of tours we organised were at a similar level as in past years.
But since the first reported corona virus case in France on January 24, the number of clients deteriorated as fast as the virus spread across Europe.
Vincent local guide in Maumere
Local restrictions apply since 20th March, varying from stay-at-home orders, wearing masks outside, closed schools/public places/parks and no big religious celebrations. Whenever we return home from outside when buying food (which is still allowed), we should have a 15 minute sunbath, wash ourselves and drink hot water.
With no income since then, I’m very concerned how to take care of my family: a new-born child, 9 year son, wife, and my mother that also lives with me. We have reduced all our costs to the bare minimum but still need food, milk, health insurance and paying off the debt of the loan I received last year to build a house.
So far, there has been no government support for my region. We haven’t received any support for daily needs such as food or masks, let alone a financial support.
Because the situation is impossible for me, I am talking with the bank to get permission to pay my debt later. I have been a guide for many years, but if the situation continues any longer I am forced to look for other jobs to buy food and milk for my family, knowing there are not so many jobs anyways.
The virus is already spreading in my community, so it is concerning that we cannot avoid crowded markets to buy food. Searching for a second job will further expose me and my family to the virus, but I do not many options.
By the time EU member states decided in March 17 to place severe travel restrictions, many international flights, including those to Indonesia, were already canceled and the number of tours had dropped by 100%.
Some of the locals that haven’t had any income since mid March, have managed to get through with their small savings. Others spent their savings within weeks already and face a frightening period.
How much worse could things get?
Well, if the circumstances do not improve within the coming weeks, the financial impact for these local communities is dramatic because of the very strong seasonality of the tourism sector as shown in Figure 2.
Historically, he starting point for the travel season is mid March, which exactly coincides with the global travel restrictions. The months prior to this (November – March) was low-season during which the locals in the tourism sector were already living from their savings earned in the high-season.
+70% of the annual income of locals working in the tourism sector is earned in the months June-September.
FIGURE 2. The number of tours in 2020 in comparison to the historical average. Covid-19 travel restrictions were imposed when the travel season was just about to take off.
While the borders may open again for tourists in the summer, it is believed that the tourism will be far from normal levels for at least the next months.
if I go to the jungle, I have least risk to get sick because locals stay away from the jungle as they think it is hunted.
Budi – local guide in Sulawesi
We also see that in our bookings: While most bookings for the high season are historically done in the period March-May, since mid March this year nobody has booked for a tour in the high season period.
Nur local guide in Kalimantan
Almost everything, including schools and mosques, has been closed since the social distancing measures in Kalimantan on March 17th.
Although we haven’t yet received any government support, we know they will provide some sort of support but it will for sure not be enough.
We cannot do any other work because it is difficult to find any work during the lockdown. The only big local industry that is barely impacted by the corona crisis is the palm oil industry.
Because we have little savings, we have to sell our personal stuff to survive such as laptops, cell phones, rings or necklaces. Owners of boats – the primary transportation for the orangutan tours in Tanjung Puting National Park – try to sell their boats with discounts.
We are worried to get the coronavirus, but the situation for the healthy people is also terrible.
Moreover, of those who had booked before the pandemic broke out, 80% has already cancelled its tour because of fears for the coronavirus, flight cancellations or the general uncertain outlook.
So it is hard to overstate how worrying the outlook is for these communities.
For a typical household family to have adequate food, clean water, and a roof over their head it costs €5/day/person.
So What Does Local Guides Do to Help?
We try to help out the local communities as much as we can, but sadly, our resources are limited because we barely have any income, and there are a lot of cancellations that require refunds conform our cancellation policy.
The staff at Local Guides have other primary jobs and only work on voluntary basis for Local Guides so that our reserves can be used exclusively to help local communities and refund clients. Fortunately, some of our clients that were eligible to receive a cash refund were kind to accept a voucher for a future tour, and as such support those in need today.
Budi local guide in Sulawesi
When I saw the news in February about the situation in Italy, my heart broke. When Local Guides checked how I was coping with the lost income, I told them to worry about the Italians instead as they are the ones struggling.
Later the virus arrived in Indonesia and I noticed only rich people got it. We are superstitious people so I thought that because we’re poor we won’t get sick.
Then suddenly everything was put in lockdown in Tana Toraja, and the people around me got infected.
So now I am really worried. I am mostly scared of getting the virus because my family relies on my income. I cannot help them when I am sick. Therefore, I decided that if I go to the jungle, I have least risk to get sick because locals stay away from the jungle as they think it is hunted. I myself am born and raised in the jungle, can hunt for my own food and sleep in self-made shelters.
But the problem was that I didn’t have any savings to leave for my family as I would be away. I had spent most of my savings to support the victims of the tsunami in Palu in the end of 2018. And then the tourism season in 2019 was very bad because travellers avoided Sulawesi after this earthquake.
But my friends at Local Guides sent money to my family. This gives us big relief and I really hope that I can pay them back soon. But I am very worried about my neighbours, my friends, and my colleagues. I do not know how they can get through this situation. I am sad because I want to help them but I can’t.
To the local guides most in need we provided donations worth of several months of salaries. To others, we provided loans with 0% interest rate and a friendship agreement to pay it back whenever they can.
But as we mentioned, this is not a sustainable solution as we are running out of reserves and there are more people than the local guides that need help, such as cooks, taxi drivers, cleaners, hotel staff.
We decided to write this article to act as the voice of the struggling local communities. Through this article we ask clients, readers and friends to help these communities in Indonesia. This brings us to the next point.
The road to the usually popular Canggu beach is closed amid the corona pandemic.
What Can You Do to Help?
We won’t dance around it: The best way to help is through donations directly to local communities or via initiatives that pass it directly through such as Food for the poor for the locals in the village Bukit Lawang, Bali Children’s project for the children in poverty in Bali or Kitabisa for affected low income families.
You could also donate through us via the donation form below. 100% of the donations are sent to local communities in tourism sector across Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and Flores via our well connected guides.
While costs for living vary, life is generally inexpensive relative to Western standards:
- meals: 3-6 EUR per day
- filtered water: ±1.50 EUR per bottle
- toiletries: 2-4 EUR per month
- rent: 30-90 EUR per month
For a typical household family to have adequate food, clean water, and a roof over their head it costs €5/day/person.
Any donation you give will help a voiceless person in need in a big way.
Edie local guide in Bukit Lawang
I live in Bukit Lawang. It is a small village in Sumatra, where we enjoy and respect our nature as we live our simple lives as a community.
My village depends on tourism income, but since mid February the village in closed for visitors.
The government is telling us since mid March that they will help the poor after they work out the details and planning. They are still busy with planning, so we have to rely on our own community.
Now we have to work as farmers or have to do other temporary jobs to earn money. I myself am now building roofs from plants in the hope that someone will buy them. Sometimes we get rice and water from donations made by old clients or individuals.
When the flood in 2003 destroyed our village, it took us years to rebuild it and things were finally starting to improve. Recently, I received a donation from Local Guides for the education of my son which gave us a perspective.
But now, it feels like we are back to where we were in 2003, but this time we do not need to rebuild our village but have to wait for visitors to return which is beyond our control. It may take years again for things to improve.
I am looking forward to the day I can work again with my friends and family to show visitors the beautiful habitat of the Sumatran orangutan.
A final word
Because we are a small organization without marketing experience, we only reach a very small audience.
Without your help we cannot be the voice that the local communities need. Could you please help us and share this article with your network?
Thanks so much. Stay safe & healthy,