The Kompas team traced a motorbike rental business, which is owned by two Russian citizens. Local business actors asked the government to strictly enforce the rules for foreign nationals violating permits.
JOHANES GALUH BIMANTARA, FAJAR RAMADHAN, DHANANG DAVID ARITONANG, HARRY SUSILO
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A number of social restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic has eroded the livelihood of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) on the island of Bali. Just as local Balinese businesses started to revive at the end of 2022 when the virus tamed, theyare under pressure again due to foreignbusinessesseizing the market.
I Made Wira Atmaja (35) accessed his Telegram chat application, then opened a group chat with a name that uses the Russian alphabet. Among the messages, the majority of which were in Russian, his attention was drawn to one message from the group’s admin.
"It destroys the price," said one owner of a motorbike rental business, pointing to the words "Priced at 2.1 million a month," during an interview at his house in Canggu, North Kuta, Badung regency, in early April. The motorbike rental offers customers a 2022 Honda PCX 160 motorbike with a rental rate of Rp 2.1 million per month, much lower than the standard local rent.
Wira gave an example:He rents out a 2022 Honda PCX motorbike for Rp 3 million per month and a 2020 or 2021 PCX for Rp 2.8 million per month. Based on the standard tariff of the Bali Motor Rental Association (PRM Bali), the PCX 160, without mentioning the year of production, was set at Rp 3 million per month.
Wira, one of the founders of PRM Bali, suspects that the "price-war" in the rental business is operated by Russian citizens. The owner of the rental business has the advantage, because it is easier for them to communicate and attract visitors who are from the same country, including Ukrainian tourists as they understand Russian.
If there weren't any Russian or Ukrainian [tourists], Bali would be starving.
Russians and Ukrainians have indeed become the target market for motorbike rental businesses because many of them live in Bali for a long time, especially since the Covid-19 outbreak. "Frankly, during the pandemic, if there weren't any Russian or Ukrainian [tourists], Bali would be starving," said Wira.
In 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, until mid-2022, business for MSMEs slumped. Wira had to sell around 70 motorbikes and lay off a number of employees.
The government loosened permits for foreigners to enter Bali starting in 2022, and the positive impact for businesses began to be seen in the middle of that year. By the end of 2022, Wira had received more than 300 orders, so he was working with other motorbike rental entrepreneurs to meet demands. At the same time,motorbike rental businesses by foreigners started to boom.
As a result, in April 2023 only around 130 of Wira’s motorbikes were rented out, while the rest were put in his garage. His income now averages Rp 2 million per day, while at the end of 2022 it could get up to Rp 5 million per day.
April is indeed the low season for foreign tourist arrivals. However, Wira believed that there should have been many more motorbikes coming out of his garage. The roads in the Canggu area were often jammed, and many motorbikes were driven by foreigners.
According to data from the Bali Provincial Office of the Law and Human Rights Ministry, as of April 30 there were 12,000 Russians holding residence permits. A residence permit includes: a stay permit (the length of stay can be extended up to 180 days), a limited stay permit (for one year and can be extended), or a permanent residence permit (for five years).
The roads in the Canggu area were often jammed, and many motorbikes were driven by foreigners.
A hundred percent of Wira's customers are foreigners, and 60 percent of them are from Russia. It makes sense that many Russian tourists are attracted to running a similar business in Bali.
The Kompas team traced a motorbike rental business, which is owned by two Russian citizens. The Telegram chat group admin for the rental service only wanted to communicate with people who were fluent in Russian. After the price is agreed upon and the consumer sends their passport data, the motorbike is delivered to the consumer's location by a Russian citizen.
Wira and his fellow local motorbike rental businessmen admitted that they did not hate citizens of certain countries because the presence of foreign nationals was a driver of the economy. MSME entrepreneurs only ask the government to strictly enforce the rules on foreigners who violate their permits.
The presence of foreign nationals who are suspected of carrying out illegal economic activities in Bali has also harmed surf photographers who are members of the Indo Water Shots community. Since its establishment in 2020, members of this community have often come across foreign photographers.
Harry Adrianto (34), a representative for Indo Water Shots, repeatedly warned foreign photographers not to take part in photographing surfers for commercial purposes. Foreign photographers’ activities have detrimental effects, because they take Harry and his friends' market share. Moreover, surfing photography has become a major livelihood.
"They come as tourists, but they are looking for money here. Unless they’re legal, that means they pay taxes. Meanwhile, they get quite a lot of money from surfing,” he said.
In fact, to make a living, Harry and his friends have to face death. They have to swim out to sea in order to capture the best moments of the surfers. Even then, it is not certain that the shots they takeare bought by the surfers.
In the low season, such as now, their photos are usually bought by 2 to 3 surfers per day. For one photo they charge US$10 to $15 or Rp 148,000 to Rp 222,000."If it's low season like this, our target is usually novice surfers. If there are [foreign photographers], they will take this too," he said.
Despite being warned several times, the presence of foreign photographers has not disappeared. They make various efforts to continue to carry out their activities, from changing their Instagram accounts and moving to other shooting spots, to making transactions secretly.
One foreign photographer from Brazil, GN, was reported to the Immigration Office in 2021. However, a week after he was summoned by immigration officers, GN again showed up in front of Harry and his friends.