Bali has become a breeding grounds for rule-breaking tourists during the pandemic, and tensions with locals are running high
- An American CrossFit influencer in Bali publicly shamed a local business on Instagram for offering free coffee or tea to vaccinated customers.
- He's just one example of foreigners in Bali mocking COVID-19 rules or breaking local rules during the pandemic.
- Bali is reliant on tourism, leaving many locals with no choice but to put up with tourists they feel are not respectful.
Connor Hood runs a bakery in Bali, Indonesia, with his wife, Restiyani Hood. On July 8, he got a message from one of his marketing employees. There was something Hood should be aware of on the bakery's Instagram account, the employee said.
Earlier that day, Sinamon Bali, which is known for its cinnamon rolls, had announced on Instagram that it was offering a free coffee or tea to customers who bought a roll and showed proof they'd had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hood told Insider that the post drew an expletive-laced comment.
"F--k this you pandering fools," read the comment, according to screenshots viewed by Insider. "This is such a f--king joke. Giving out your sugar coated food while 78% of Covid mortalities had obesity issues. Me and my business do not support you. You are the problem. A sheep in wolves clothing."
The comment was written by Dave Driskell, an American CrossFitter and fitness influencer with 93,000 Instagram followers who works at a gym in the resort town of Canggu on Bali.
"He was super rude to us," Hood told Insider. "And we were not even trying to force people to get a vaccine. Just giving a free coffee for people who chose to get it."
Driskell declined to respond to specific questions from Insider about his comments, which he later deleted, but sent a written statement.
"From the start of this pandemic I have been vocal on how metabolic health is of paramount importance for when viruses and disease arise," Driskell's statement read. "... This massive issue I believe should be explained to the public and that with proper diet and exercise we can eradicate bad health and the horrific issues that come along with it. As a passionate health and fitness coach for the past 11 years I only want health for Indonesia and the rest of the world to get back on its feet ASAP."
Driskell is just one example of a foreigner openly deriding COVID-19 measures or discouraging vaccines while living in Bali during the pandemic. At least 78 tourists were deported from Bali in the first half of 2021, some for violating COVID-19 restrictions. While Bali remains powered by tourism, some locals feel increasingly powerless to deal with the influx in recent years of a new wave of foreigners - many digital nomads and influencers - who appear to hold little respect for locals, demand lower prices, and flout COVID-19 rules.
"If I talk to my friends who work in a hotel or in a restaurant, they said they want to have visitors that used to come maybe 20 or 30 years ago because they think that they were maybe more educated and gave more respect to people," Siska Natalia, a program coordinator at JED, an eco tourism network in Bali, told Insider. "They were more polite and not stingy - they gave tips. But with the visitors that they have now, it's totally different."
'People live like there is no pandemic at all'
Misbehaving foreigners in Bali have made headlines throughout the pandemic.
There was the Russian influencer who filmed himself riding his motorcycle off a dock into the ocean in December. In January, American digital nomad Kristen Gray faced backlash for a viral Twitter thread in which she posted about the "elevated lifestyle" in Bali and how "queer-friendly" she found the island, which many criticized for encouraging travel during the pandemic. After that, two influencers from Russia and Taiwan filmed a prank video where they went into a supermarket wearing face paint resembling a face mask. They were all deported.
But it's not only the high-profile influencers that are getting under locals' and longtime expats' skins.
In parts of Bali like Canggu, "people live as if there is no pandemic at all," according to Daniel Prasatyo, an Indonesian language teacher in Bali.
Stuart McDonald, an Australian writer who's lived in Bali for 13 years and runs travel guide Travelfish, lives near Canggu. He described the area as "one of the epicenters of foreigners not wearing masks." And a friend of McDonald's told him she'd heard foreigners in Ubud - one of Bali's most famous destinations - talking about using fake vaccination certificates.
"There is a resilient anti-vax posse of people here, whether they're in Canggu or Ubud or wherever," McDonald said.
Prasatyo, who teaches Indonesian to students from the US, France, Brazil, and other countries, said some of his clients in the pandemic have tried to insist on holding face-to-face courses in their villas.
"When I told them that I'd prefer to have the classes online, they started explaining to me how it is a hoax, how it's a global conspiracy involving Bill Gates and 5G," he said. Even the clients who said they did not believe in the virus tried to negotiate a lower "COVID rate" down to one-third of his regular price, Prasatyo said.
Indonesia has become Asia's new COVID-19 epicenter, reporting a record 350,273 new cases in the week of July 11 to July 17, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In total, the country has recorded nearly three million total cases and more than 76,000 deaths, but a lack of testing could mean the true numbers are much higher.
In Bali, which has fared better than other parts of Indonesia, hospital bed occupancy doubled between the end of June and mid July. Its planned grand reopening to foreign tourists in July was postponed, and dining in restaurants and going to shopping malls was banned on July 3. On Monday, Bali recorded a record 1,111 new cases and 23 deaths, making July's death toll the highest in the pandemic for the island.
Hood, the owner of Sinamon Bali, said he and his wife haven't received such negative comments at their other Sinamon location in Jakarta, which caters mainly to an Indonesian audience.
"And then in Bali, of course we do have a lot of positive feedback, but the only negative feedback we've gotten is from some of the foreigners that live here that have a very anti-vaccine agenda," Hood said. "... And Dave in particular was obviously very vocal."
Driskell, the CrossFit influencer - who has been spending time in Bali since 2012, according to the gym's website - has also criticized COVID-19 vaccines on Instagram throughout the pandemic.
Earlier this month, he shared a video to his Instagram story that questioned vaccines. He also shared a link to a news story about France's health pass, which requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants, shops, and other venues. "This slippery slope is now gone full mental," Driskell wrote. "Rights are being taken away unless you get the magic job.
It's not the first time the CrossFitter has sparked controversy. In 2015, Driskell went viral after he posted a photo of himself doing a handstand at a Holocaust memorial in Berlin. (He later apologized and said he didn't know it was a memorial at the time.)
'What can we do?'
Bali's relationship with foreigners is a complicated one.
Tourism accounts for about 60% of Bali's economy, and most young people choose going into tourism over any other industry, according to Natalia from the eco tourism network.
"I only find one agricultural school in Bali, and the rest of them are tourism schools," Natalia said.
Yogis have long been drawn to Bali for spiritual reasons, but in recent years, the tropical island has become a magnet for digital nomads, influencers, and people who are simply looking for a high-end lifestyle on a budget. Some tourists have come for "Instagram tours" where they can be shuttled around to multiple cultural sites in one day just long enough to get their snap and move on to the next spot.
But Bali's popularity doesn't mean the locals have been raking in the dough. The average Indonesian made $183 a month in December 2019, according to data compiled by analytic firm CEIC.
Many hospitality businesses have had to offer cheaper and cheaper rates over the years to attract visitors, Prasatyo said.
"Even though the rates are already low, there are so many that still haggle and bargain down to unreasonable numbers," he said. "Some of the privileged ones still can say no to them, but I don't believe everyone can do that."
"We rely too much on tourism," Prasatyo said, adding that Bali has weathered tourism-devastating events several times, including bombings in tourist areas in 2002 and 2005 and multiple volcano eruptions between 2017 and 2019. "No tourists were coming because everyone was scared. And the government knows exactly how bad that situation was. I wish the government learned from these experiences that we cannot rely happily on tourism only."
This reliance on tourism has left many in the travel hotspot struggling to get by in the pandemic. More than 36,000 people have slipped into poverty in Bali during the pandemic, according to Coconuts Bali, which cited data from the Central Statistics Agency.
Many business owners in Bali continue to tolerate disrespectful visitors because their livelihood depends on tourism, according to Natalia.
"Of course they are hoping to have that the old type of visitors, but they cannot do anything," Natalia said. "In their opinion, just having the visitors is a better thing than not having them at all."
Some feel helpless that tourism can ever change to better benefit the Balinese because of the industry's dominance on the island.
"It's sad," Prasatyo, the teacher, said. "But what else can we do?"
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