Seasoned hotelier Jean Hélière shares a unique insight into the future of tourism in Bali and how it plans to stay afloat.
We are waiting for the reopening of Bali in the best condition that we can have,” Jean Hélière, Chairman of the Bali Hotels Association (BHA) and General Manager of Hotel Indigo Bali Seminyak Beach, tells Prestige in an exclusive interview. In the meantime, “we are going harder in supporting the local community because they are the ones who are suffering the most in the pandemic. And we are also working with the government right now in order to, hopefully, reopen the island as a tourist destination very soon.”
Clearly, Jean and his colleagues in the hotel industry are not giving up on the Island of the Gods. They’re fighting back for Bali as best they can, and doing whatever they believe it might take to promote economic recovery in a new spirit of cooperation. “To bring together all general managers of hotels, villas and resorts in a non-competitive environment, to exchange information on matters of general interest, to have a common voice on issues pertaining to the tourism and hospitality industries in support of Bali as a destination,” says the association of its mission on its website.
“We have been living in such uncertainty under the pandemic, which has crippled so many aspects of our lives,” Jean acknowledges. “One of the sectors that has been affected the most here is tourism. The hotel industry in Bali has suffered a lot. We dropped from 70 percent occupancy in 2019 to 10 percent in 2020. As a result, many hotels have had to close during the pandemic.
“The main part of Bali’s economy is the tourism industry. It’s more than 55 percent of the contributions. We are really tourism dependent compared to other islands and destinations, so we are maybe suffering even more than some others. For years, the BHA has been committed to promoting Bali as a beautiful and quality destination to the world. Since 2020, the BHA has adjusted its efforts, with a focus on supporting the island’s tourism recovery and the government’s plans to eventually reopen Bali for international tourism.”
Jean has had a successful career in the luxury hospitality industry that spans more than two decades. He has amassed extensive knowledge and experience of the top luxury brands, having worked for hotel industry giants such as Marriott, Hilton, the Ian Schrager-founded Morgans Hotel Group, and, most recently, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). He began with IHG in 2013, at InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa as an Executive Assistant Manager. He became General Manager of InterContinental Moorea Resort and Spa in 2015, and was also awarded General Manager of The Year in 2018 by IHG Southeast Asia and Korea.
In 2019, Jean took up his role as General Manager of Hotel Indigo Bali. He has been an active member of the hotel association since then, helping organize its programs, community relations, and charity initiatives. He became Chairman of the BHA last December. The BHA is a well-established professional group of star-rated hotels and resorts in Bali. It represents 157 hotels and resorts offering, in normal times, a total of more than 27,148 hotel rooms and employing more than 35,000 people.
One of the BHA’s objectives is to support and facilitate the development of communities, education, and environmental improvements in Bali. It has initiated many projects involving the association’s members, as well as the people working in the hospitality industry. The BHA’s vision is “to keep Bali as the most desirable tourism destination in Asia through the warmth and hospitality of its people.”
Jean explains: “We have different programs at the BHA. The main ones right now are dedicated to the environment, taking care of the whole island. We have CSR programs to support orphanages on the island, we have programs dedicated to education, and we are supporting some of our students through scholarship programs.
One of the efforts that BHA has backed is supporting the vaccination program and new Covid regulations by launching two campaigns: #maskon and #sleeveup. And because of the remarkable success of these campaigns, the BHA has introduced #ourbestshot to show the world that Bali is ready to welcome future guests into a safe environment.
Jean notes: “Compared to the whole of Indonesia, in terms of vaccinations the situation here in Bali is very encouraging. We are already at over 70 percent for the first jab and 45 percent of people having had their second jab. We are well ahead of the national average.”
For travellers, the BHA has created a new platform called “welcomebacktobali.com”. This streamlined, user-friendly website aims to provide the most recent and verified information about the current situation in Bali, including pandemic policies and regulations.
Says Jean: “While waiting for the reopening of Bali, we are making sure to protect our destinations, our communities and people, so that the future guests that come here can have a safe stay with us and can experience this wonderful island. Our main objective is to protect the people and the properties. We want to make sure that in terms of maintenance, in terms of cleanliness, they are all in good shape. And we keep focusing on the next steps and trying to see how we will be able to reopen in top condition.
“I think what has been clear during this time is that we have to come up all together. There is no competition anymore, especially in this special environment. We all are soldiers. We work together on the future, speaking more about the destination and its attractions rather than of individual strategies. So, I guess that what has been really important is that we have the responsibility and these resources together with the BHA to come up as one industry and not as individual hotels. The next step that we are taking is to support the island as a destination by implementing new promotions, especially sustainable promotions. By speaking about our food, speaking about our local talents, we are bringing more attention to the Balinese culture.”
The BHA video campaign “Bali is my life” is, according to the association’s website, “a powerful statement that reflects the fact that Bali is not just like any tourist destination but a beautiful island that is owned and lived in by the Balinese, who welcome visitors to enjoy the island. As a statement it is emotional, honest and true. It invites the world to discover why Bali is so special. In this campaign we are proud to present Bali not through its beauty, or its tourism industry but through the one consistent backbone of the island: its people.”
How does Jean see the future of tourism in Bali over the next few months, and what are the biggest hurdles he feels that the hotel industry needs to overcome? “I think the first one is to understand that before we have the possibility to go back to normal, we will have at least local tourism coming back again, like we had in June,” he replies.
“The first milestone would be the ending of the PPKM (Pemberlakuan Pembatasan Kegiatan Masyarakat or Community Activities Restriction Enforcement) that is in place right now. The second milestone would be to understand and to decide when we will be able to reopen internationally, exactly when that would be possible.
“In the next few months, I think we will continue to rely on local tourism, mainly from Java, and I think it will go on like that at least until the end of the year at least. It’s very difficult to predict what we will be doing beyond that time. It really depends on the number of virus cases that we are having here, and on the global situation. It all depends on government decisions, but we hope that in the next two or three months we might have the possibility to start stepping back again.”
Developments in the West give Jean some hope. “By looking at what other countries are doing right now, the situation in Europe and in the US currently, I think we can really see that the situation is slowly getting back to how it was before. Bali has always been a very international tourism destination, and I believe that it will come back to what it was, and be even stronger than before. Regardless, we will continue to really focus on maintaining a safe and secure environment for our guests.
“Overall, my hope is that the situation will soon get back to what it was in 2019 or even better. But I really do hope that Bali in the future will find a way to rebalance its internal economy. Bali should not be focusing only on tourism, but be considering other kinds of possible economic development on the island.”