As tourist flow stops, Balis craftsmen struggle to market their work online

As tourist flow stops, Balis craftsmen struggle to market their work online

BALI: It had been weeks since a customer last stepped inside Safira Klau Gallery, a small art and fu..

BALI: It had been weeks since a customer last stepped inside Safira Klau Gallery, a small art and furniture shop in the Kerobokan area of Bali, Indonesia.

The area used to be buzzing with tourists and interior designers from all over the world looking to refurbish their apartments, houses and villas, or to buy statues and small ornaments to decorate their homes.



But since the pandemic, the area resembled a ghost town with very few cars passing the small, winding road, let alone stopping to shop.

Gallery owner Vincen Klau said last year he could make a gross income of between 40 million rupiah and 70 million rupiah (US$2,669 and US$4,670) a month selling chairs, dining tables, wall decorations and small statuettes – carved in the rustic and abstract style of Eastern Indonesian wood art.

“Now, it is quieter than my quiet months,” he told CNA.

Vincen Klau in front of his workshop and gallery in Kerobokan, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: Amilia Rosa)



Klau said he would count himself lucky if he could get 15 million rupiah a month, which is barely enough to pay rent for his store and house, salary for his employee and various bills.

The shop is chock-full of artworks he has not been able to sell in months, collecting dust and occupying almost every inch of the tiny property, down to the stores parking space.

Some of his unsold pieces, he said, were supposed to be for a buyer from Java who had abruptly cancelled his order.

READ: 5 Bali restaurants popular with tourists and how they are faring during COVID-19

“My main clients are people who are building or renovating their villas. Now, all construction and renovation projects had stopped,” he said.

Across Kerobokan, many galleries that could not afford to pay the bills had to close their doors temporarily and Klau worried that his store could be next.

Not wanting his store to go bust, Klau – a short, muscular man in his fifties who until recently did not have an email address – started the gallerys Instagram account in late June.

But due to his unfamiliarity with the world of social media, his account has only attracted five followers as of mid-September.

The account was barely maintained with the latest post dating back to Jun 24 and the majority of the photos were amateurishly shot, depicting a cluster of random pieces with no clear focal point.

Nearly all of the posts had no caption and when they did, the captions simply read “mask” or “Timorese statuettes”.

Klau said that he does not understand how social media works. As a result, there has not been many curious potential customers liking or leaving a comment on his Instagram posts, let alone expressing interests in buying.

The gallery owner is not the only one struggling with online marketing in Bali. Too used to walk-ins, the craftsmen find their source of income drying up in recent months.

A woman weaving an offering as she waits for customers at the Sukawati Art Market, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

The resort island, which economy is almost entirely reliant on tourism, has seen 59 per cent drop in the number of tourists in the first half of the year, according to the Indonesian Statistics Agency.

When the pandemic hit Indonesia in March, the number of new tourists arriving to Bali was reduced to almost zero.

It rebounded when Bali eased restrictions for domestic tourists on Jun 31 but the number of arrivals in July was a mere 11 per cent compared to the same period last year.

With the central government suspending its visa-free and visa-on-arrival policies for international travellers, businesses such as craft workshops that cater mainly to foreigners take the worst hit.


Many of the artisans who are reluctant to sell online are held back by their lack of exposure to technology and social media.

“I dont understand technology,” said Made Ariani.

For the last 15 years, she has been selling wooden boxes and souvenirs at the Sukawati Art Market – a half-hour drive from provincial capital Denpasar.

“My children understand technology better than me, but they dont have the time to help me. My daughter is already working and my son is still too little,” she said.

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Ariani said her main clients are souvenir shops in tourist areas like Kuta and Denpasar. Before the pandemic, they could order up to 500 souvenirs from her in one transaction.

“But they have all closed,” she said, adding that she now relies on the very few customers and locals who come to the art market.

Wayan Cedit, 37, also expressed little interest in selling his wood craft online.

“I dont have Wi-Fi,” he told CNA with a laugh.

“(Selling online) is too complicated. Even my friends who do (sell online) said it is complicated.”

Wayan Cedit, in his small gallery at the Sukawati Art Market in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: Amilia Rosa)

Among his worries is dealing with fussy customers online.

“We sell handmade goods. We cant make two products which are exactly alike. Customers will be disappointed if they get a product which is different from the pictures. They will want their money back. And that happened to my friends,” he said.

“(Selling online) is just too difficult. Its not like dealing with real people. Customers can see and feel the products in person. You cant do that online.”

Cedit said he used to make a gross income of 70 million to 100 million rupiah a month and could employ up to 15 freelance workers at his workshop.

“Now, its virtually zero,” he said, adding that his workshop had not produced anything in months and his freelance workers have now become farmers.

A woman applying the finishing coat on a statue at the Sukawati Art Market in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: Amilia Rosa)

Of the 68,000 small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) registered in Bali, only a handful have social media accounts. "The percentage is very small," chief of the Bali Cooperative, Small and Medium Enterprises Agency Wayan Mardiana told CNA.

The Bali government has trained a number of SMEs selling food and beverages to go online, with the help of ride-hailing companies GoJek and Grab, but has not been able to do the same for handicraft SMEs.

“Unlike food, their market is domestic and foreign tourists, not local Balinese,” he said.

“There are many artisans who are not familiar with technology. They are not familiar with social media. We have to change their mindsets and we are trying to come up with a training programme so they can sell their goods online,” Mardiana added.

READ: New COVID-19 cases knock hopes of reviving Southeast Asia's holiday hotspots


The challenges cited by the artisans were mainly just excuses, said a workshop owner who has tasted success in using Instagram to promote his work.

I Wayan Gede Mancanegara, who runs the Ganesha Art Gallery, said many of the business operators claimed they stay away from social media because they do not want their work to be copied.

“Some said their Internet connection is not good. But these are all excuses. They just dont want to learn new things,” the 32-year-old said.

His workshop in Kedisan village – a 20-minute drive from the nearest town Ubud – is among the few places that are still busy working on wood art orders and commissions. The fourth generation artisan has diversified his product line to offer sleek and modern designs alongside traditional Balinese style wood arts.

Statues on display inside the Ganesha Art Gallery in Kedisan village, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo: Nivell Rayda)

On a recent Friday, the workshop was abuzz with the sound of hammers and chisels as four workers carved a wooden sign for a cafe, an ornately decorated door and a statue of the mythical bird Garuda, the official symbol of Indonesia.

Lying on the floor at one corner of the hilltop workshop was a soon-to-be finished name plate, intricately carved for a high-profile politician from Jakarta.Read More – Source

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