DestinationsWith remote working on the rise in the wake of Covid-19, proponents say the long-staying, wider-spending habits of digital nomads make them a natural target for the Indonesian island.

Can Bali find a tourism future in digital nomads?

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Digital nomads work in comfort at Livit, a coworking hub and international services provider for tech startups, in Sanur, Bali.
Digital nomads work in comfort at Livit, a coworking hub and international services provider for tech startups, in Sanur, Bali. Photo Credit: Livit

As Bali prepares to welcome its reopening to international tourists on September 11, the provincial government is formulating a Work from Bali campaign to appeal to digital nomads and remote workers.

The Indonesian island’s vice governor Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati has said Covid-19 has provided the “perfect momentum” for promoting this concept.

With its countless cafes offering good coffee and fast wifi, award-winning coworking spaces, affordable accommodation, and wide array of weekend getaways, the Indonesian island regularly tops lists of the world’s best destinations for location-independent professionals.

The village of Canggu on the island’s southwestern coast, for example, is currently number one on the website Nomad List, which ranks the best places to live and work remotely, based on cost of living, internet speed, weather and nightlife, among other metrics.

As 55 to 70 percent of its economy is drawn from tourism, Bali is one of Indonesia’s most pandemic-affected regions. Although governments around the world urged foreign nationals to return home when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic in March, some chose to remain in Bali.

For I Komang Masdana, the owner and operator of Kakul Villa, just south of Ubud, having a long-stay guest during the island’s severe economic downturn is “much better than nothing.”

Komang believes that “digital nomads or expat workers are helping Bali’s economy at the moment. Even if it’s just a little bit, we’re grateful.”

Head of CEO Indonesia’s Bali chapter, Paulus Herry Arianto, is a strong supporter of the provincial government’s Work from Bali plan. He explained that the campaign’s core components should include a digital nomad visa similar to those offered by Thailand, Estonia and Barbados, a special tax rate, and the obligation to share skills through the island’s desa adat (traditional village) system, which is made up of banjar (hamlets).

“Each banjar has an extremely good network; they are the centres of information distribution. It is important that the banjar benefit directly from this special tax rate. If the digital workers receive this special visa, one of the requirements should be sharing their entrepreneurial knowledge with the banjar.”

Bali offers remote workers much more than sun and surf, said David Abraham, co-founder of Outpost, the island’s biggest coliving/coworking provider.

“Bali offers a rich spiritual and artistic culture that is open to all, like a living museum. Various services, such as top rated international schools, health clubs and restaurants, cater to the unique needs of longer-term visitors who stay for weeks or more. These longer-term visitors are a boon to the economy," he said.

"While Chinese visitors spend US$1,400 per visitor often at Chinese-owned or managed establishments, these longer-term visitors spend more over their visit, often outside the tourist hotspots and at a variety of destinations.”

For Lavinia Iosub, managing partner of Livit, a coworking hub and international services provider for tech startups, the government’s plan to target long-stay remote workers “bodes well for Bali.” Like Abraham, she also explained that as digital nomads tend to stay longer, they spend more over a longer period than regular tourists.

“They tend to stay not in a resort but in a more local community, try local food at the warung (food stalls), and buy from local producers. People staying for three to six months and supporting the local economy, what’s not to like about that?”

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