Digital Nomads Can Save Bali. Here Is How To Attract Them

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Byron Black

IO – Bali, like other popular tourist destinations around the world, has been devastated by the dramatic decline in visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With little prospect of international travel opening up any time soon, Bali has partly hedged its risk by keeping its doors open for domestic tourists. Still, it is hardly enough to keep the local economy going: the purchasing power of domestic tourists is far below those coming from abroad, and even when they can afford to come to Bali, their stays are limited and usually come under special package deals with hotels.

Meanwhile more and more hotels and resorts are going bankrupt. Restaurants are also closing their doors, and by mid-year it is expected the food and beverage industry—once a mainstay of the Balinese economy–will become just a shadow of its former self. Other parts of the tourist-related economy, such as retailers and transportation, have also been hard hit by the dearth of tourists.

Bali’s experience is hardly unique. Last year international tourist arrivals declined by more than seventy percent. This decline translated into one billion fewer international tourist arrivals compared to 2019, and resulted in a loss of more than one trillion dollars in tourism receipts.

Balinese are hoping that with vaccines being produced that there will be a recovery in the near future. Unfortunately this is not in the cards. Although there could be a slight rebound in international tourism in the second half of this year, industry experts are forecasting that it will take up to four years before a return to 2019 levels of international tourism.

This raises the question, how are tourist-dependent economies going to survive in the coming years? Some Balinese are pivotting by going back to their villages and either farming or fishing to survive. But this is hardly a solution for avoiding hardship and a permanent loss in small-medium sized businesses that don’t have the financial resources to wait out a long-term downturn.

One solution, and one that is becoming increasingly popular, is to cater to digital nomads and remote workers who can provide much welcome relief to struggling tourist economies. Popular tourist destinations such as Vietnam and Thailand in Asia, Croatia and the Czech Republic in Europe, and Antigua along with Costa Rica in the Americas have made a major effort to attract these online workers and aspiring nomads who are estimated to number nearly 20 million people worldwide and whose ranks are poised to become even larger over the coming years.

Yet, oddly, Indonesia’s government seems not to be interested in attracting digital nomads, the very people who can provide a stimulus to Bali. Instead, the national ministry of tourism is developing plans for a long-term stay, second home visa for a five year term. The catch is applicants would be required to make a deposit of two billion rupiah per individual or two and onehalf billion rupiah for a family. In the words of Sandiaga Uno, “this could reduce the amount of digital nomads in Bali”

But why would one want to reduce the number of digital nomads while the rest of the world is doing their best to attract them? It makes no sense for a government to turn their backs on fully employed online workers who want to swap skyscrapers for tropical living, especially when they could be spending their income on a local economy that desperately needs help.

Long stay permits are not a bad idea, but they won’t attract large numbers of people and are not the solution for reviving Bali’s economy. The government should also give serious attention to the what the likes of Croatia are doing with their digital nomad visa programsband devise policies that make Bali an equally if not more attractive place for professional workers to come and live.