The Covid crisis has hit Bali hard and exposed something we knew to be a real possibility, an economy too dependent on a single sector. Bali’s economy was, and still is, 80-85% dependent directly or indirectly on tourism. Farmers, drivers and local shops are still dependent on tourists coming and eating, hiring buses and taxis and paying hotel and restaurant employee salaries who in turn support their local community. It is all so devastatingly  mono-dimensional. Just ready to crash.

A deserted Kuta Beach, mid-June 2020, photo by Edward Speirs

And we knew it would but did as all good optimist ostriches do, put our heads in the sand, loved every tourist dollar, yen and renminbi that came in and said ‘it will never happen’. But it did. Not like a financial crisis or a volcanic explosion which affected only certain markets or selected areas, Covid hit all markets and all areas, leaving Bali literally without overseas income from March until today and with greatly depleted domestic tourism for most of that period. 

It’s great having 20/20 hindsight  but to be honest all the authorities knew the score and just decided to do the age old strategy, wait. Until it was too late. What needed to happen then, five years ago and needs to happen now are two very important things : 

One : to diversify from tourism into other sectors and here there are lots of ideas: medical treatment (like Penang and Singapore) education (boarding schools, vocational, university) art and cultural centres, more digital nomads on special visas, open visas for retirees, recording studios, tv and online game production. The list is endless. The opportunities real.

Two: to use the lack of tourism to revive, restore and rethink the whole infrastructure development and zoning of the whole island. Focus on total sustainability though rigorous water, waste and energy management. Instead of being vilified as the planet’s plastic waste champion  be praised as the ‘world’s most sustainable destination’. 

Note : we could have been doing all this for six months instead we have been complaining about how unfair the world has been to us. The fact is we weren’t ready, we are still not ready and if we don’t start on both aspects soon we will miss the post-Covid express, and then we really will be in trouble. 

Action is needed now. Today. Who’s going to kickstart this?

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair G. Speirs

Alistair G Speirs, OBE, is the Publisher of NOW! Magazines. He has been in the publishing, advertising and PR business for the last 25 years. He started both NOW! Bali and NOW! Jakarta as each region's preferred community magazine.