Sunshine, sea… and skills in tourism: ILO supports women in northeastern Indonesia in sustainable tourism development
BUDO and MARINSOW, NORTH SULAWESI – As the sun sets over the Celebes see and its orange glow turns the horizon gold, two dozen tourists snap photos and marvel at the view. Even for someone local, the sun setting on the volcanoes is extraordinary, said a mother visiting from a nearby town on a recent Friday afternoon at the pier of Budo, a village of 2400 perched on the ocean, 25 kilometers northeast of the regional capital Manado.
Thanks to support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and its partners, Budo has increased its income from tourism fivefold and now appears on the tourist trail. It is one of four villages supported by an ILO programme that helps rural communities diversify into sustainable tourism, providing skills to local entrepreneurs, mostly women.
Until a few years ago, the pier – about 300 meters long, crossing a mangrove forest to connect the village to the open sea – was dilapidated and used only by fishers leaving out to sea. Back then there was far more fish and no tourists, said Hani Lorens Singa, President of the Village Enterprise Association (BUMDES). Since then, fish stocks have shrunk and at the same time, with support from the government, the pier has been renovated and painted, benches and wooden huts added for the convenience of tourists, who against an entrance fee of 10,000 Rupiahs (US$ 0.65), can walk along and enjoy the view. Around a fifth of the visitors spend more – ordering local delicacies and drinks at the ticket counter with the occasional visitor also staying the night, Lorens Singa said. The food visitors order is prepared and delivered to the pier by whoever from among village association members is available.
“We share the work, we share the income – this is tourism at a human scale,” he added.
Many coastal villages in North Sulawesi province, in far northeastern Indonesia, are historically dependent on small scale fishing. Women in these communities typically do not have an independent income. The tourism project gives them not just work but also fulfilment, said Olfi Seli Budiman, one of the new tourism entrepreneurs in Marinsow, about an hour’s drive further east.
Marinsow is in a mining region, which the government named a ‘priority tours destination’ and is supporting financially with the goal of diversifying its economy. More than 50 villagers received small wooden bungalows on their plots to start bed and breakfast businesses, or homestays, as they are known in Indonesia. ILO, with local partners Klabat University and the Manado State Polytechnic, is helping to teach the skills needed, such as bookkeeping, cost calculation and marketing, hospitality and tourism.
“I was very surprised to learn that tourists prefer their sheet white and a diversity of meals,” said Yeni Alelo. Ms. Alelo and the other participants have also learned the importance of using hashtags in social media marketing posts, so that tourists looking for a place to stay in the area find them more easily.
“Many of the entrepreneurs we work with had never been tourists themselves, so without training, it is not obvious for them to know what tourists expect,” said Mary Kent, the ILO Chief Technical Adviser for the project. “Our support complements the government infrastructure that had been put in place to stimulate village tourism, providing the essential entrepreneurship skills to launch successful community micro-enterprises.”
The investment in skills for marketing and quality control in these communities is paying off, with about half of the few hundred tourists spending the night in Marinsow last year coming from outside the province, including an increasing number from abroad. Marinsow is a few kilometers away from the pristine beach, so before the homestays and additional services were developed, tourists had no reason to stop by. “All I could do is sell simple snacks on the beach,” Yvonne Kubis, a cook, said. “Now I cook full meals and deliver to their homestays.”
The women’s small businesses are financed through microfinance credits, and they have been able to make all the payments on time, said Gabriel Tamasengge, the village’s mayor. “We are very proud of our women, of the business acumen we never knew they had.”
Skills for prosperity
The village tourism project is part of the Skills for Prosperity Programme, funded by the United Kingdom, supporting sustained and inclusive growth through skills development in three Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia. Its goal is to increase employability, employment and livelihood opportunities of beneficiaries.
To ensure sustainability of the programme, and to eventually reach more than the initial four supported villages, the ILO has trained local trainers, including staff from higher education institutions Manado State Polytechnic and the University of Klabat. Tourism specialists at project partner University of Gloucestershire in the UK have also contributed to the capacity building of these delivery institutions, helping to integrate the community focus into their standard curriculum and study programmes.
The support to the villages illustrates well ILO’s approach in Indonesia, said Michiko Miyamoto, Country Director. “Our Decent Work programme focuses on social dialogue, job creation and enhancing the protection of vulnerable workers,” she said. Furthermore, it also contributes to the UN in Indonesia’s National Blue Agenda Actions Partnership with the government in support of the sustainable development of the ocean and coastal communities, Ms. Miyamoto added.
North Sulawesi has 150 coastal villages with tourism potential, according to the regional government. Despite the improvements, a lot still remains to be done, said Lorens Singa in Budo, which was the winner of the digital marketing category at the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy’s Top 50 Village Tourism Award this year. “We need to offer more reasons for people to stay for a meal or overnight.”
One option could be offline marketing to get more foreign tourists from nearby world-class diving destinations within the Bunaken Marine Park to hop over for an evening meal and a visit to a typical village, off the map of mass tourism. They plan to offer cooking and handicraft classes as well as fishing trips. As occupancy starts to grow, they also want to build more homestays, Lorens Singa said.
“Our task now is to make sure that when the funding from ILO and the government stops, we will have a fully formed business that allows us to stand completely on our own feet,” he said. “We had the vision, and we have the commitment – I am confident we will succeed.”
A version of this story was published on the UN News website 7 Jan 2023