Tourism resilience needed amid health crisis - Tourism Indonesia


Monday, March 2, 2020

Tourism resilience needed amid health crisis

Bali Tourism Agency officials attend a mass prayer in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak at the Pura Candi Narmada Hindu temple in Kuta, Badung regency of Bali, on Jan. 31. (Antara/Fikri Yusuf)
As the third-largest travel and tourism market in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has been severely been hit by the coronavirus outbreak. According to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan, the tourism sector in Indonesia could suffer losses of almost $500 million per month.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) health crisis is not a totally new challenge. There was a SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003 that killed more than 800 people around the world. In 2014-2016, the Ebola virus claimed more than 11,000 lives in West Africa. From all these outbreaks, it is clear that tourism can be hit by crises occurring beyond a country’s borders.

However, have we, as a nation, prepared the sector with crisis mitigation measures? Is our tourist industry resilient enough to withstand a global health crisis?
The theory of resilience was proposed by ecologist CF Buzz Howling in 1973. The idea of tourism resilience is to treat the crisis as a turbulence and disequilibrium in a tourism cycle. Tourism resilience is vital to negotiate the variety of global crises using controlled variables within the socioecological system and resources in the destinations.

Accordingly, stakeholders in tourism need adaptive skills and tools even before a crisis happens. In the tourism cycle, they need to identify and characterize the stage of the crisis, their adaptive capacity, forms of resources, potential capital accumulated during the stages. The industry stakeholders need to set parameters when stress events occur and create turbulence. They should prepare the steps to reach a state of equilibrium again.
Some responsive action from the central government during this health crisis must be appreciated. For example, there are 135 thermal scanners at gateways to Indonesia. There are also 100 hospitals ready to accept patients. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo himself has requested scenarios of health disaster mitigation from all relevant ministries at a coordination meeting of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

However, tourism in Indonesia has not been prepared with the necessary tools and awareness on building industry resilience. There are at least three problems, pertaining respectively to dependability, budget distribution and guideline availability.
First, tourism still depends heavily on central government intervention, incentives and initiatives. As a result, local governments, the hospitality industry and tourism communities are vulnerable in a time of crisis due to a lack of initiative and progressive steps to face any global health crisis.

For example, the government has set aside more than Rp 4.3 trillion in financial support for the tourism industry to allow businesses such as airlines, hotels and restaurants to lower prices by up to 50 percent for foreign and domestic tourists in 10 major destinations: Bali, Yogyakarta, Labuan Bajo, Lombok, Manado, Lake Toba, Batam, Malang, Tanjung Pandan, and Tanjung Pinang.

This contingency measure has been taken because of the virtual stop in foreign tourist arrivals, especially from China, which last year accounted for more than 2.1 million tourists, or 13 percent of total arrivals in Indonesia, who spent on average $1,000 each per visit, according to news agency Antara.
Second, the government body that supports tourism resilience by providing training in risk, crisis and disaster mitigation, such as the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) has its budget cut every year. The budget has gradually decreased from Rp 1.83 billion in 2014 to Rp 610 million in 2019. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati revealed recently there would be a Rp 7 billion “on-call” budget readily available for this body in response the COVID-19 crisis handling. However, that merely shows that the budget is set up to counter disasters only after they happen.
It is clear that the government must set up budgets and programs to stimulate adaptive skills during a crisis involving all tourism stakeholders: the government, academia, the private sector, the media and civil society through community-based tourism organizations. Otherwise, stakeholders in the sector will not be trained well enough to build, reorganize, collaborate, change plans and implement effective responses during destabilizing events.
Third, tourism stakeholders also need guidelines and crisis management models as a reference point and to stimulate ideas. For example, in 2003, the Asia Pacific High-Level Conference on Crisis Management held by the World Trade Organization distributed guidelines on mitigating risks before, during and after a crisis. In 2019, Indonesia finally devised crisis management rules for tourism. However, these rules are not compulsory but rather serve as guidelines for preparing standard operating procedures in destinations and setting up tourism crisis centers (TCC).

Government Regulation No. 10/2019 on crisis management also consists of rules to encourage local governments to set up special budgets for crisis management in tourism. Such a budget can be used for physical infrastructure or human resource investment. For example, the local government could produce interactive guidelines, information boards and provide adequate safety equipment for various types of crises. They can also prepare contingency plans, train people to reorganize events at a time of crisis, establish diversity in the portfolio for different markets and identify effective crisis communication channels.
The coronavirus crisis should be a wake-up call for Indonesia to build tourism resilience. It will ensure the framework of crisis will readily work by mitigating shocks and impacts and devising an effective response. Eventually, when disaster strikes, the tourism sector will be ready to adjust to the situation to achieve a new equilibrium.

Written by Desideria Cempaka Wijaya Murti

University of Atma Jaya Yogyakarta lecturer in marketing communication specializing in tourism and culture. This is a personal opinion.



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