JAKARTA -- The Indonesian government is working on a plan to send thousands of Jakarta-based civil servants to work remotely from Bali, in a bid to help the economy of the tourism-reliant island rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Up to 8,000 employees at seven ministries will likely be eligible for the program, which is being overseen by the office of the coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment. They include workers at the energy ministry, the public works ministry and the transportation ministry.
"This is part of the government's efforts to create demand so that hotels and restaurants in Bali can survive," Odo Manuhutu, deputy for tourism and creative economy at the minister's office, told reporters at the weekend. "In line with the health ministry's guidelines, Bali's vaccination rate is currently the highest and fastest [among Indonesia's provinces]... to make sure that Bali is safe to visit."
Manuhutu said the government is aiming to inoculate 2.8 million Bali residents aged 18 or older -- or over 60% of the island's population -- by July. Officials had earlier said they wanted to launch some kind of a "work from Bali" program that month.
With 80% of its economy dependent on tourism and related sectors, Bali reported the deepest contractions among Indonesia's 34 provinces in 2020 and in the first quarter of this year -- at 9.3% and 9.85%, respectively. Indonesia's economy, meanwhile, shrank 2.07% and 0.74% in the two periods.
Manuhutu said many Bali hotels have been reporting just around 8%-10% occupancy rates along the pandemic, forcing them to furlough their workers. Assigning some civil servants to work from Bali is expected to encourage workers from the private sector to follow suit, thus helping Bali fill its 140,000 or so hotel rooms.
"We're hoping that our presence in Bali will create multiplier effects," Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said on Monday. "We're hoping [it] will trigger a herd mentality, followed by other sectors -- the private sector, academic institutions and communities."
Most employees at government offices in Jakarta -- except essential workers -- are still working on a 50:50 basis, under which they regularly switch between working at the office and at home.
Vinsensius Jemadu, director for tourism marketing at the tourism and creative economy ministry, said among the plans is to get half of those having their work-from-home shift to do it from Bali -- including administrative work and virtual meetings.
"We can set a quota for each ministry or state institution. The civil servants will be able to work from Bali in turns until the end of the year," he said.
Jemadu added the government is still calculating the budget for the program, saying it will be "huge." Accommodation alone is estimated to cost at least 3 million rupiah ($209) per month for each employee. They will be concentrated in the Nusa Dua resort area, which employs more that 7,500 workers directly and 10,000 more indirectly -- around 40% have received their vaccine shots.
"We've done various efforts before to support the tourism industry through grants, loan stimulus, etc. -- but they're still unable to boost demands," Jemadu said.
Bali welcomed just around 350 foreign arrivals between January and April, down from 1.2 million in the same period of last year, according to data from state airport operator Angkasa Pura. Domestic arrivals, meanwhile, dropped to 417,000 from 993,000.
Uno said Indonesia has been discussing potential travel corridor arrangements with several countries -- including Singapore, Vietnam, the U.K. and Russia. He had earlier said that under the schemes, some locations in Bali and Riau Islands Province, which directly neighbors Singapore, will be designated as "green zones" -- or COVID-free areas.
The minister added that the government is preparing policies and telecommunications infrastructure to help Bali catch up with the rising trend of digital nomads -- a loose group of remote workers and freelancers who travel the globe and earn a living anywhere as long as there is fast and reliable internet connection. This includes a plan for long-term visa arrangements.