A Russian Instagrammer who launched his motorbike off a dock, crashing into the sea. Two YouTube pranksters who fooled a supermarket guard with drawn-on face masks, violating the island’s health rules. A couple allegedly filming porn on a sacred mountain.
Bali has hosted a range of badly behaved influencers during the pandemic. And now it’s had enough.
While some countries sent foreign travellers home as Covid began to spread, Indonesia allowed visitors to remain. Yet, one year on since the start of the pandemic, police say many foreign tourists still show flagrant disregard for the local health protocols.
“Yes, the foreigner brings income for us. But their action will risk the local who works to serve them as well. Can they have a little empathy?” said Balinese politician and designer Niluh Djelantik, who fears their behaviour is jeopardising Bali’s chances of restarting its tourism industry.
Social media influencers – who are drawn to the island’s photo-perfect, emerald-green paddy fields, its scenic temples and beaches – have proved a particular problem. “The key for Bali recovery (from the pandemic) is the low number of (Covid-19) cases. But the foreigner who has (online) followers creates content about violating the health protocol, leaving an impression that Bali is not safe,” Niluh said.
Over the past few months, reports of disrespectful, brash stunts, careless partying and even insulting behaviour by social media influencers have angered the public.
Some high profile cases have been deported, including, most recently, Russian influencer Leia Se, whose supermarket mask prank went viral. In a video statement filmed with co-star Josh Paler Lin, a Taiwanese YouTuber, she apologised for the stunt. Josh Paler Lin said he did not set out to be disrespectful, or to encourage rule breaking. “I made this video to entertain people because I’m a content creator and it is my job to entertain people,” he said.
It isn’t just foreign social media stars flouting the rules, but tourists more generally, said Robby Septiadi, chief of police in Badung Regency. “The foreigners have a low level of compliance towards the health protocol regulation compared to the locals. It is very low.”
So far this year, about 346 foreign tourists violated the health protocols, while 60 were deported from the island according to local media. Foreigners are charged Rp 1,000,000 ($70 USD) for not obeying health guidelines, 10 times more than locals, because officials say they are more likely to misbehave and a tougher deterrent is needed. Police have even made foreigners do push ups as punishment.
One foreign photographer was so frustrated by others who ignore mask requirements that they created a sign with a photo montage of tourists spotted without one, and displayed it in Ubud’s traditional market. “Many internationals here in Bali do not wear masks. They do so because they have different ideas about masks,” the accompanying text reads. “It does not matter what those ideas are. The law in Bali is to wear a mask in public.”
‘Shame on all these people’
Balinese writer, Ni Made Purnama Sari, said that such tourist behaviour is a legacy of the Dutch colonial treatment of the island. After the Puputan war in the early 20th century the Dutch promoted it as a commodity only: an exotic island, escaped heaven, and the virgin island. “This is a lasting colonial legacy. They only see Balinese as tools for the tourism industry,” she said.
Recent incidents have provoked anger online: “Covid is not a joke at all, shame on these people,” wrote one commenter. But some Balinese are reluctant to call out bad behaviour, Ni Made said, because they have been encouraged to welcome visitors: “Balinese are very tolerant to these foreigners rather than domestic visitors.”
The image of Bali that is promoted worldwide – a beautiful island with generous people where it is also cheap to live – has exacerbated the situation. A recent report from International Living, featured by Forbes, described Bali as such good value that foreigners could move there and live without working – though, it went on to note that it would cost US$1,900 a month to live well in most towns.
“They invited those who had power, those from developed countries, to come to the Third World countries to fulfil their dream: a cheap place,” Ni Made said.
The local economy, which relies heavily on tourism, has been devastated by the pandemic. According to Indonesia’s statistics agency, the islands’s economy slumped by 9.3% in 2020. Many hotels and restaurants are closed. Balinese are losing jobs, prompting some to return to farming and fishing.
Sang Ayu, 38, who works as a villa housekeeper in Tegallalang, said that she makes Rp 1.7m per month (US$118). “We are grateful for the salary,” said Sang Ayu. The provincial minimum wage is around US$174.
The Indonesian government is aiming to create “green zones”, where vaccination rates are high, to encourage domestic, and eventually foreign tourism, to the country’s key destinations.
Niluh hopes that, in the meantime, foreigners – including social media influencers – will support local people to keep Bali safe. “To the foreigners who have followers, let’s hold hands together with Balinese. Have a little empathy. You may avoid posting (controversial posts), and (have) concern for the people where you stay,” she said.