Indonesian tourism and the need for skilled workers

Bali and Yogyakarta need skilled workers to keep their tourism economies operating, however, those same workers have been forced to seek alternative livelihoods during the pandemic. What does this mean for an industry looking to get back on its feet?

As pandemic spread across the globe last year and borders closed, tourism was unsurprisingly one of the industries most affected.

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the sector suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals falling 74 percent.

This had profound implications for Indonesia; the island of Bali is one of the most famous international destinations and the city of Yogyakarta attracts domestic and international visitors to see its renowned Javanese arts, puppetry and dance displays.

A path to recovery

The impact of COVID-19 and means of recovery for the sector and its workers was of interest to the Australia-Indonesia Centre.

A group of researchers working under the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR), led by Dr Ya-Yen Sun and Dr Ilmiawan Auwalin, recently examined the fortunes of the tourism sector in their report, Road to recovery: Assessing job risk and the impact on the most vulnerable in Indonesia’s pandemic-hit tourism industry.

This report is to form the basis of a panel discussion on Tuesday 7 December for day 3 of the PAIR Digital Summit 2021.

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Following publication of their report, researchers spoke about the outlook for tourism, not only for Indonesia but the sector more generally. And it seems there is much work to be done in order for the sector to prosper post-COVID.

Staff shortages

Dr Jie Wang from the University of Queensland Business School and Dr Ilmiawan Auwalin of Universitas Airlangga observed the pandemic had forced tourism workers to find jobs in other sectors; and there is no guarantee they will return to their old ones.

“Tourism has lost a lot of experienced staff and service providers during the pandemic. Some of them have changed jobs and they have had to go to other sectors,” Dr Wang said.

“Once international travel comes back, there will be a huge gap as tourism seeks to offer high-quality services because we potentially lost a lot of skilled staff members.

“That will create a huge risk for not only Indonesia, but also many countries, even Australia and governments need to respond to that.”

Dr Wang said governments needed to act quickly to help sector recovery.

“Yes, we are still in the disaster and are not fully recovered, however, tourism demand will recover, but where are the people to serve the customers?” she said.

Addressing the situation in Indonesia, Dr Ilmiawan Auwalin said many tourism and hotel workers had returned to farming.

“We have seen news reports of former hotel workers who now earn more working on a farm compared with working in hospitality,” Dr Auwalin said.

“Many hotel workers in Jakarta or Bali migrated there from other provinces and from rural areas.

“Hotels have been unable to pay them during the pandemic so they have returned to those rural areas.”

Dr Lintje Sie from University of Queensland said smaller tourism operators in places like Bali would likely require government assistance, particularly in meeting new COVID safety and hygiene standards.

“Most of the international hotels have the standard operating procedures implemented internationally and definitely can ensure cleanliness, health and sanitation will be taken care of,” Dr Sie said.

“The problem is, for example in Bali, there is the possibility there are small businesses owned by the locals…which may need help to improve their skills in technology”.

“International hotels we believe are ready to welcome tourists but for the businesses owned by the locals, there must be standard operating procedures or guides so that people who travel to the country feel safe.”

Domestic and international tourism

The researchers indicated that in Indonesia, places that could easily attract domestic tourists would probably recover faster.

“Bali is one of the very hardest hit as it is heavily reliant on international tourists.

“Whereas, Jakarta is less heavily focused on international tourism and is already starting to recover because the government already opened it for domestic tourism two or three months ago,” Dr Auwalin said.

“Domestic tourists are also coming to Bali, however, as Bali has been really heavily reliant upon international tourism, their recovery has not been as fast.”

While the government recently reopened Bali to international tourists, international air services to the island remain limited.

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Market shifts

Dr Wang said tourism markets that could demonstrate flexibility would be best placed to recover and the pandemic had brought on advances in digitalisation and technology.

“Through the pandemic recovery, we will see destinations that have more domestic customers recover better.

“That is a lesson: you need to be able to demonstrate flexibility as a supplier to cater for more than one market and be adaptive to many other different types of tourists,” she said.

“And from many research projects we have conducted, we have seen that a lot of hotels and destinations have changed their market and adapted quickly.

“I think that is a very important lesson.”

The impact of COVID-19 on tourism and the industry’s recovery will feature in a panel discussion with Dr Ya-Yen Sun and Dr Ilmiawan Auwalin on Thursday 2 December for day 3 of the PAIR Digital Summit.

They will be joined by Widyasari Listyowulan, Vice President Public Policy and Government Relations at Traveloka, and Dr Futu Faturay, a policy analyst from the Indonesian Ministry of Finance.

Read the full research report here.

Digital Communications Coordinator, Australia-Indonesia Centre