This interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Grace Holloway
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Nila Warti, the owner and director PT Kalimantan Tur Grup. We discussed her struggles in maintaining the tour agency business she owns and manages during the lockdown. The closure of airports and tourism spots has cost a lot for tourism businesses, especially since most of her clients come from overseas (especially Europe and USA). At this moment, she has very few clients come to visit Kalimantan island hence she started to shift her target market from foreigners to expatriate living in Indonesia and the locals. By doing so, she hopes that she could survive the business until the situation is back to normal, in term of the end of the pandemic.
Can you tell us what you do as a business?
Nila: I would like to start in 2015 when I started as a tour guide. After meeting lots of people through that position, I decided to begin selling a tour program in Kalimantan Island. I rent trips largely to those from Europe and the United States because they prefer to have a tour in Kalimantan. We have a lot of rainforest, animals, wildlife, and culture. It’s different than in Bali; in Kalimantan, they explore forests and wild animals in the jungle. I have a trip in West Kalimantan that focuses on the forest. In Central Kalimantan, we focus on wildlife, such as the orangutan. In South and East Kalimantan, it’s largely culture, but also jungle and wildlife.
How long have you been doing this?
Nila: Since before getting married, around 2000–2002. I took full control of the business in 2015.
Where is your business based?
Nila: In Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Since last year, our government has been moving our capital. Our old capital was too crowded, and they needed a new location. After a couple of months, our President decided to move our new capital to East Kalimantan, and Balikpapan will be the nearest city.
Do you have any employees who work with you?
Nila: I was largely working alone, but I also had my friends in the local area. When I have a client and a trip, I will deliver my clients to my friends, and they will take over the tour in that area. Sometimes my clients meet me for only the first day, and for the following days, they do the tour with my friends as a guide. All of my guides are in the same community, an association of tour guides in Indonesia. It’s a national community including every area and province in Indonesia. Now, going into this year, we already have some structure in place.
So your work involves lots of teamwork?
Nila: Yes, and with our association, we give training on how to be a good guide. It minimizes complaints from the clients and makes them satisfied.
How many clients did you normally have, before the pandemic?
Nila: Before the pandemic, two or three groups per month. Near the summer, we see more people coming to Indonesia, around June-September. At that time, we will have 10 groups per month.
Is there any change during the pandemic, especially during the lockdown in March?
Nila: Almost all businesses like me closed. Our local government locked down, and our airports. No one could come to Indonesia, and no one could get out. Touring and travelling stopped until now.
What did you do on your business front during the lockdown?
Nila: Normally I promote in Europe and in the United States. Right now, I am promoting to expatriates who already have temporary or permanent residence, and are already in Indonesia. During the lockdown, they are mostly staying in place and working, so they still have several days to have a tour. I choose very carefully which area to provide a tour for them. For example, in Central Kalimantan, there is a national park that is closed except for one feeding station, so this is not sustainable for my clients. I instead send them to South Kalimantan or East Kalimantan. Our local government is also promoting East Kalimantan.
What else have you done to stimulate the business and attract customers?
Nila: All the tour and travel businesses have done the same thing: lower our prices. We give a lot of time to customers who are interested in doing tours with us. Before, I was never really targeting the locals, but now we do. Locals feel the tour should be cheap, but in Kalimantan, it is not as cheap as other places in Indonesia, so we struggle a bit there. It depends on which people want to tour here. Also, I have four days for training, and we will learn about first world tours. We would like to develop our business to do the first world tours, so we can show to the local community what you will see and experience on a tour in East Kalimantan. It’s pretty cheap for one program for the locals. We also get some donations and promote handmade products from our local friends.
What strategies do you think worked, and which do you think didn’t work as well?
Nila: I prefer to do the real tour, rather than a virtual tour. Virtual tours have a lot of difficulties, such as internet issues. Also, when you are talking in front of a laptop, communication becomes more difficult. We are still learning how to handle these problems. In East Kalimantan, several areas we have for tours have no internet signal, as we are in the jungle, so it’s not possible. We are still figuring out how to make the best virtual tour to sell.
How is your business going now?
Nila: Not really good. From March until now, I had three groups. The first are locals from West Java. The second is a Russian couple from Bali and came to South Kalimantan. They preferred the longer tour, so I offered a five-day tour. The last is a couple, one from Indonesia, the other from France working here. That is who I would like to be targeting now, as they are already in Indonesia. Western expatriates feel okay with the price.
How are your customers doing now?
Nila: Several customers still contact me, and ask when will tours resume. Before the pandemic, many had already made reservations, I had already issued tickets, and I had already put down payments to several places for accommodation. Now, the airlines don’t want to refund with cash. Instead, they are giving you the same trip for the following year. Thus, I have offered for my clients to postpone their trip until next year, and several of my clients received that.
So you have been maintaining your contacts in the hope they’ll come back again?
Nila: Yes, to make them confident to come back.
What is the outlook for the coming months?
Nila: The government mentioned an opening in early 2021. It depends on what areas have lower cases of COVID-19. For example, we have a lesser populated area with lower cases, and we can tour there. I hope next year our governments open one by one.
So you are optimistic about the upcoming months?
Nila: Yes, I believe that people want to come to Kalimantan.
What are three things that you need help with?
Nila: My background is tourism. I need to learn how to use and maintain a website, start-up digital marketing, maintain social media, and take good videos and photos. Also, even though we don’t have many clients, we still have to pay bills. I need the money to maintain the website because I still pay per month. Those are the two main issues. I need to learn digital marketing, and how to survive in this season.
Do you have a closing statement?
Nila: I believe tourism will be back soon. We will have been locked down for almost one year, and the world will be opening again. Everyone will want to go to some places to have fun. Tourism will never die, it’s a very good business. Keep learning, keep informing about your area, never give up. I believe one day the world will come back again like before, but fresher.
About the Guest
Nila Warti lives in Balikpapan and started her business in tourism in her hometown. In 2015, she started her own business as a local tour operator, focusing to promote tourism in West, Central, South, and East Kalimantan. She enjoys working with local people who provide tour components for her clients, such as a local guest house, motorized canoe, tourism objects etc. She also works as a tour guide at Balikpapan. Last year, she registered her company, PT. Kalimantan Tur Grup, according to a prediction that Balikpapan will develop very fast as the president has decided that East Kalimantan will be the new location for the capital of Indonesia.
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