Ario Seto, Memorial University of Newfoundland
This paper discusses tourism workers’ financial and spiritual strategies in Bali during the COVID-19 pandemic years. Attracting around six million international visitors annually, Bali is one of world’s largest tourist destinations and in the wake of the pandemic, the provincial government quickly locked the island down to limit people’s mobility. Prior to 2020, around 15 per cent of permanent residents are employed in tourism-related sectors. The absence of tourism has left streets, hotels, performance halls, and art markets empty, and nearly 28 per cent of tourism workers have been laid off. Real unemployment numbers, however, is likely larger than recorded as many employers decided to send their workers home without officially terminating their work contracts so there would be an available workforce once the lockdown lifted.
Unemployment has resulted in personal destitution as massive unemployment stresses social safety nets. Modes of social reciprocity have failed to function when most members of a cohort, for example, villages with a large group of tourism workers or extended family with members working in the tourism industry, are laid-off. Balinese people have tackled this situation with two common strategies. First, to secure daily consumption, impacted workers sell their belongings, including work assets, such as art equipment and motorcycles. Second, because of their financial precariousness, Hindu Balinese have reduced the scales of their rituals and offerings. Both realistic decisions were chosen only with anxiety since Balinese people started to realize that they cannot rely on tourism—which in Bali has become a cultural identity—to sustainably support religious practices. The pandemic years thus mark a period of livelihood disorder that led to a rebellious reflection on Balinese cultural identity.
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