Despite the reopening of Bali’s borders back in February and the resumption of the visa on arrival program, the influx of tourist numbers hasn’t equated to an increased demand for internal transportation. Transfer companies and independent taxi drivers across Bali have yet to benefit from the bounce back from Covid-19 according to the chairman of the Bali Tourism Transport Association.
Speaking to the local newspaper Nusa Bali, chairman Nyoman Sudiartha explained how he estimates that only 10% of the transportation capacity in Bali is being booked at this point. He confirmed that bookings have increased since Bali’s reopening but that the recovery has been far slower than the sector needs to survive. He maintains hope, however, as the number of international travelers steadily increases.
Responding to the news that hotel occupancy hit 60% over the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, Sudiartha confirmed that the same increase was not felt by the transportation sector. He felt that this was the case because many domestic travelers arrive in Bali via ferry and have their own cars with them and that many were visiting family and friends who could assist them with airport pick-up and drop-offs should they have flown in from across Indonesia.
Sudihartha says that despite the slow growth, the demand for taxi and tourist transportation services is increasing. The taxi industry in Bali has been a point of contention in the past. With the rise of on-demand taxi services like Grab and GoJek, there had been mighty conflict between local taxi drivers and those who offered app-based services. Local taxi drivers were frustrated that on-demand drivers drove the price of taxi services down.
Local taxi drivers are connected with the local Banjar (community management) and Pecalanag groups of each village or collection of villages. Their frustration came from the fact that they paid community taxes to build and maintain roads, and that each trip they took provided funds to support their families and communities. The app-based taxi drivers were more often than not from Java and other parts of Indonesia who came to Bali to capitalize on the rising trend and were not required to pay community taxes.
This is why in many popular tourist destinations there are ‘No GoJek – No Grab’ signs to encourage travelers to support local, independent drivers. When the pandemic hit many of these independent drivers, who also doubled as tour guides and translators, had no money or work to fall back on. Many returned to working the family fields and are eager to see the return of travelers equate to a rise in demand for taxi services so that they can support their families the way they once did.
The Bali Tourism Transport Association is looking forward to the influx of international travelers in June, July, and August. As Australia heads into the long school holidays and Europe gears up for the first lockdown-free summer since 2019, local taxi drivers are starting to head back to their old parking spots ready to be of service to travelers.
It remains to be seen if international travelers move around Bali in the same way as they once did. There has been a trend in the last few years for those who have been able to travel to stay put once they arrive. If this trend catches on in Bali it could be disastrous for the taxi transportation sector which depends on taking small groups of travelers on sightseeing tours across Bali. It would not be sufficient for the sector to simply be a majority airport shuttle service.
Earlier this week it was announced by the Bali Hotel and Restaurant Association that they will submit a proposal to the central government to extend the visa on arrival program from 60 countries to 198 counties. Opening the VoA program to every country in the world would be an idea likely supported by the transportation sector, though the proposal is almost certainly going to be declined on the grounds of political logistics.
That being said, as the G20 Summit approaches in Bali in November, taxi drivers can bank on demand increasing exponentially over the 2-day summit and in the weeks leading up to it. There will be over 10,000 delegates alone, with the addition of delegation support staff, international media, and other international teams needed to ensure the smooth operation of the conference. Taxi drivers will surely be central to a much-needed successful G20 in Bali.
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