At the height of the pandemic mask shops and covid hygiene supply stores were popping up left, right and center in Bali. For those who have managed to show entrepreneurial spirit during the economic downturn of the pandemic, the opportunity to pivot business operations has come around again.
On Tuesday 17th May, Indonesian President Joko Widodo addressed the nation to announce the relaxation of mask mandates for outdoor settings and the removal of the PCR test requirement for inbound travelers to Indonesia.
This was welcomed with overwhelming positivity by the tourism sector in Bali. As with every news headline, there is always another side to the story. This time around it is the Covid entrepreneurs who are fearful about a loss of businesses and are looking to explore new options.
Local vendors who were able to secure wholesale supplies of masks and other hygiene equipment were able to make a decent profit throughout the last two years. One vendor shared how he was selling in excess of IDR 3 million a day (USD 200) at his pop-up mask store in Denpasar.
Many quick-thinking entrepreneurs pivoted their services to become vendors of Covid hygiene supplies, while thousands of other Balinese people had no choice but to return to their familial homes and work in the fields as they waited for the tourism sector to reopen.
Considering that a minimum wage salaried job in Bali brings home around IDR 2 million (USD 140), or up to IDR 7 million (USD 500) for highly paid jobs, IDR 3 million in sales every day is a big deal. Thousands of workers in Bali lost their income overnight in March 2020 as the world went into lockdown. Tourism is the biggest employer in Bali and provides work for people across the island both directly and indirectly, formally and informally.
It’s not all bad news for mask vendors and travelers in Bali can’t quite ditch the masks for good. Jokowi’s mandate relaxation still requires the public to wear masks indoors and on public transport. He urged that those who are vulnerable or live with covid comorbidities must still exercise caution and wear masks in social situations. Vendors like those in Denpasar will still need to provide Covid-19 supplies to the tourism and hospitality sector in particular. International travel operators have strict Covid-19 policies for staff.
Even before the pandemic people in Indonesia were used to wearing masks. As a common courtesy people would wear masks if they were suffering from the flu or a common cold. Many young people would wear masks if they were suffering from acne as a way of helping themselves to feel less self-conscious. In areas where there was significant air pollution, people would regularly wear masks too.
This week’s change in covid restrictions in Bali has also been matched with a renewed effort from the local government to ensure that local people have access to the Covid-19 vaccine. The Covid-19 Task Force has been instructed to stop policing mask-wearing in outdoor public spaces and instead do vaccine certificate spot checks. They have been ordered to talk to the public about the importance of getting a second dose of the vaccine for full coverage and to take up the booster shot when offered.
Though sales of masks will steadily start to decline, vendors can be reassured that revenue from tourism is on a steady but upwards curve. Internet searches for vacations, flights, and other travel deals in Bali are soaring. Airline giants have resumed regular flight schedules to Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport and unemployment across Bali is starting to decline. While the mask mandate relaxation mandate may have come as bad news for mask vendors, their business model was always going to be short-lived. Bali’s tourism sector is one of the most steadfast economies in Indonesia and is bouncing back with strength.
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