Riza Roidila Mufti, Jakarta – With the large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) and calls to cancel travel plans still in place, tourism workers have had to resort to temporary jobs to survive.
Tourism is one of the hardest-hit sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic. No fewer than 1.4 million workers in the sector have either been furloughed or laid-off, while more than 300,000 informal workers are affected by the ongoing health crisis, according to Tourism Ministry data.
With no sign of recovery in the sector, affected workers have taken available jobs such as selling food and farming to make up their dwindling income.
Kadek Ayu Parwati, 29, a tourist guide working in Bali, has opted to sell food and ready-to-cook ingredients online with her husband, a tour driver, as the pandemic takes its toll on the country's biggest tourist destination.
Kadek, who was born and raised in Bali, can no longer make a living off tourism, the island's leading economic sector. Jobs in Bali, which mostly revolve around tourism, are scarce, with many hotels, villas and tourist destinations closed.
"At first, I followed the government's instruction to stay home. But after two months, it was hard to meet my household needs [without income]," she told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
The daily earning from the new venture, ranging from Rp 25,000 (US$1.67) to Rp 50,000, is still lower than her previous income as a tour guide, when she could take home up to Rp 400,000 daily.
"Although our earnings are not as much as from our tourism work, we are grateful," she added.
Similarly, Elisia Digma Dari, 41, a tour guide in Maumere, East Nusa Tenggara, who lives near renowned tourist spots like Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park, has to sell staple food to get by as there are no tourists visiting the area amid the pandemic.
"We still hope for disbursement of any form of help from the government, but we don't know when it will come," she said, adding that she expected the government to provide cash aid.
Foreign tourist arrivals plunged 64.1 percent year-on-year (yoy) to 470,898 visitors in March, the latest report from Statistics Indonesia (BPS) shows. The monthly figure is the lowest in the last decade, according to BPS head Suhariyanto.
The Tourism Ministry previously stated that the hardest-hit tourist destinations were Bali, Riau Islands and North Sulawesi, the provincial capital of which, Manado, was the rising star among Chinese visitors that used to dominate foreign arrivals.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said the decline was in line with the ministry's projection.
"The ministry is currently working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and implementing the mitigation plan for the tourism and creative economy sector, which has been hit by the pandemic," he said in a press statement.
The Tourism Ministry previously stated that it aimed to prioritize help for the formal workers who were furloughed or laid off in the form of the government's preemployment card program.
The preemployment card program aims to provide relief for workers and small business owners hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, allocating Rp 20 trillion from the 2020 state budget to 5.6 million eligible recipients.
Recipients of the program get Rp 3.5 million over four months, including Rp 1 million for training made available by eight partner platforms and the rest is cash assistance.
Meanwhile, the ministry is seeking to include informal workers in the government's wider social safety net program during the pandemic, including the staple food card and Family Hope Program (PKH), among others, for which it is allocating Rp 110 trillion.
Indonesian Tour Guide Associations (HPI) secretary-general Osvian Putra criticized the form of aid available for workers provided so far.
"The government has only offered the preemployment card, which, as we read into it, does not meet our expectations. We don't understand how the government does not have any other form of fitting relief apart from the preemployment card," he said.
Considering the current situation, the association is encouraging members to find alternative income for the next several months, with the assumption that the pandemic impact might linger.
So far, the association members have had to resort to farming in villages, becoming food sellers, or ojek (motorcycle taxi drivers) partnering with ride-hailing companies, according to Osvian.
The Indonesia Tour Driver Association (Peparindo), with its 6,800 members, also criticized the government's choice of aid for workers in the tourist sector.
"We are really disappointed with the preemployment card [program], because what is needed now is cash aid, not funding for training," Peparindo chairman Okto Feri Saputra said.
He said that the association had contacted the Transportation Ministry and Tourism Ministry to ask for aid for its members, to no avail.
The drivers are especially vulnerable to the situation as they rely on daily income, Okto pointed out.
"They have no fixed salary, they only get paid for every trip they make. Meanwhile, since March, there has been almost no tourists at all," Okto said.