JAKARTA – Traveling through sun-drenched southern Bali on these otherwise gloomy pandemic days, there are so many scantily clad foreign motorcyclists entering and exiting traffic that it’s hard to believe the vacation island has been closed to foreign tourism in the past 16 months.
In fact, according to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, more than 109,800 foreigners from 133 countries still live in Bali, including 2,246 permanent residents, 29,070 holders of temporary residence permits and 78,485 holders of foreign visas. visitor.
Russia tops the list of nationalities, followed by the United States, Australia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Ukraine, the Netherlands and Canada – quite different from a normal tourism year where Australia and China represent a significant majority of Bali’s six million foreign tourists annually.
Part of Bali’s appeal is that the island has not been hit as hard by the pandemic as neighboring Java. Even though new infections have risen from 100 to 500 a day over the past month, the number of daily deaths remains single digits, official data shows.
This may be in part because the island has the highest Covid-19 vaccination rate in Indonesia – a deliberate government strategy to try to include Bali in the international travel bubbles. About 70% of the three million people targeted have already received at least one jab.
The latest wave, however, has prompted the local government to shut down beaches and restaurants and do its best to curb mobility, measures that have produced only mixed results on an island where motorcycles reign supreme.
Daily religious ceremonies continue, though supposedly limited to 50 people, and persuading tourists to wear masks and maintain other health protocols is proving difficult to enforce, with the 12,000 Australians left behind losing their bad luck. reputation for behavior in favor of the Russians.
More than 111,000 Russians visited Bali in 2019 in search of relief from their harsh winter. While it’s not clear how many are left, police find they are the most difficult to control on many levels.
More than half of the 157 foreigners who broke the law last year had Russian citizenship, according to police data. Among the 59 people to be evicted were two yoga instructors, who had organized a mass yoga session in the resort town of Ubud.
This trend continued this year. Authorities took a dim view of a so-called âinfluencerâ Russian boy after he posted a video on his website showing him jumping off a dock on a motorcycle, with a bikini girl hanging behind him.
Another Russian influencer, Leia Se, was kicked out in May after she posted video footage of her wearing a painted surgical mask to trick store guards after she and a friend were denied entry because Se had been unmasked.
Among other people who received their marching orders last year, two American women tweeted that Bali was a cheap destination for LGBTQ people. Their crime, according to immigration officials, was “to disseminate information that could disturb the public.”
Most of those deported have been accused of disturbing public order, exceeding the validity of their visas and abusing residence permits, including providing false information on their visa applications.
Once the center of an industry that in 2019 brought the island US $ 8 billion in foreign currency, Kuta is now largely deserted, losing its title to Seminyak and Canggu as the most popular hangouts. for young foreigners along the west coast tourist strip.
When tourism returns, this is where the action will be. But plans to reopen the island at the end of this month have died with the worst eruption of new Covid-19 infections since March of last year, when the government first closed the gate to the island. time.
Thousands of foreigners found themselves stranded last year, but while many have returned to their home countries on infrequent international flights, others have chosen to stay, facilitated by sympathetic authorities who have no no doubt saw a small way to help keep the economy going.
Those that remain are a mixed lot. Aside from a small minority of longtime residents and refugee families in Covid-affected Jakarta, they may live on trust funds and wealthy parents, struggle to make ends meet as small business owners, or fall down. in the category of âdigital nomads,â a whole new class of tourists involved in everything from bitcoin trading to art therapy and online hypnotism.
Bali is already a top destination for digital nomads, just behind Barcelona in a survey. Regional competition comes from places like Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where a prerequisite is always fast internet. A beach also helps.
Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno, a former vice presidential candidate who moved his office to Bali to oversee the island’s revival, eventually wants to attract more nomads with a new long-term visa that would allow foreign tourists to stay for up to five years. .
“Where else can we afford to rent a house with a pool and a view of the rice fields,” asks a nomadic couple on their blog, Never Ending Travel. âAdd to this beautiful landscape, an incredible vegetarian scene, many yoga classes, a fascinating culture and friendly people.â
There is however a small catch to establishing a home away from home. According to current plans, nomads would have to deposit 2 billion rupees ($ 137,500) to be eligible for the visa, or 2.5 billion rupees ($ 172,000) if accompanied by their families.
The minister has already invited people from all over Indonesia to work and study in Bali. Among those who have already moved are several foreign businessmen based in Jakarta, drawn to the prospect of their children being able to attend international schools, rather than learning remotely as they have been doing for a year now.