Informal Workers Programme: Interview with Ayu Masita from Wise Steps Indonesia


In 2021, PATA implemented the first Informal Workers Programme in Bangkok, Thailand, to assist these workers in the reopening of international tourism and to help give voice to the informal sector, which is a driving force in the tourism industry. Street food sellers, tuk tuk drivers, artisans, artists, self-employed tour guides, etc., all play a pivotal role in creating memorable experiences for visitors and move the industry forward.

At the same time, however, due to the informal nature of their work, they are the most vulnerable stakeholders in tourism, especially in times of crisis. Lacking formal government registration, informal workers often fall through the cracks of social protection and employment benefit schemes. The Informal Workers Programme was therefore created to try to bridge this gap and increase the resilience of the informal tourism sector through capacity building. 

In Bangkok, given the context at the time, the training programme focused on preparing informal workers for the restart of international tourism, including how to stay safe at work, what were the new needs and wants of tourists since COVID-19, and how to access financial incentives from the government.

For the 2023 training in Indonesia, as international tourism is already showing strong signs of recovery, the needs of informal workers are different from those of 2021. To implement this project, PATA and Visa partnered with Wise Steps to bring this programme to Indonesian destinations, namely Bali and Jakarta.

Ayu Masita, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Wise Steps Group, gave us a short interview about how they developed the capacity building and what challenges they faced during its implementation.

PATA: Why were Bali and Jakarta selected as destinations for the Informal Workers Programme? 

Ayu: Bali is a destination that is highly dependent on tourism. And Jakarta is the largest city in the country and our capital, which also makes it an important tourism destination for Indonesia. On a more personal level, Wise Steps is based in Jakarta and we have a lot of knowledge on the city, so we thought it would be great to implement the programme here to assist the local informal tourism workers and contribute to making Jakarta a more resilient destination.

PATA: How did you decide on the different training topics for the programme?

Ayu: We selected the different training topics through research and a needs analysis. We asked informal workers in Bali and Jakarta what type of training they would be interested in taking through a survey, and we also interviewed experts on what they thought would be relevant topics for the informal tourism sector in each destination. The research revealed that Bali's informal workers required training mainly in finance because many are still struggling with debt since the pandemic, but we also taught finance from a business perspective. In Jakarta, for example, the experts were concerned about the heritage conservation of the city's tourist areas, such as the Old Town, so we included this topic in the training programme.

PATA: How did informal workers in Bali and Jakarta cope with COVID-19?

Ayu: Bali struggled the most during COVID-19. A lot of store owners sold their products to tourists before the pandemic, but during the pandemic, everything closed down. Most of them switched to jobs outside of tourism, which is not an easy thing to do, and some went back to their villages. In the north of Bali, the informal workers went back to farming and fishing. This was very challenging since they had to learn or relearn skills, and these jobs do not provide a very stable income. Once the pandemic was over, they went back to their old jobs in the tourism industry. 

For Jakarta, most informal workers also went back to their home village but returned once tourism restarted. We saw that despite the challenges faced during COVID-19, informal workers still prefer their tourism jobs over other professions.

PATA: How do the selected training topics can help informal workers from each destination to recover from COVID-19 and the most common challenges they face?

Ayu: Different destinations face different problems. Bali is very dependent on tourism, and COVID-19 heavily impacted informal workers' revenue. Many of them faced severe financial issues. During the pandemic, they had to borrow money to stay afloat and ended up in debt. When the pandemic was over, they had to reopen their businesses, but it was difficult to make a living while paying these debts. Some parts of Bali are still struggling to encourage tourists to come and stimulate local enterprises. This is why participants were very eager to understand how to promote their area and business. It is also why the main topics in the training programme revolved around financial management and digital marketing.

On the other hand, Jakarta faced a different issue. Informal workers needed to digitise their operations due to safety concerns and contactless requirements, but many still lack basic digital skills. Hygiene and safety in food handling are other common challenges in Jakarta which negatively impact the tourism experience. Also, Jakarta's Old Town is an important heritage site of the city, but many informal workers don’t know its history so it was also important to provide training on the cultural and historical importance of the areas where they work so they can help preserve them and pass this knowledge along to visitors.

PATA: What kind of challenges did Wise Steps face when developing the programme? 

Ayu: One of our challenges is that we couldn’t cover all of the training that participants and experts requested, so we needed to select the most important topics. Another issue was engaging informal workers to join the programme, as they at first did not see the benefit of leaving their work or other commitments to attend training. However, we made sure to create a programme very tailored to their needs, and as interesting, engaging and impactful as possible, so in the end it turned out that many informal workers were eager to participate. We had a total of 502 informal workers that joined in Bali and Jakarta. 

PATA: You mentioned it was difficult to engage participants in the beginning. What else helped you gain their interest to join the training? 

Ayu: We took a different approach for Bali and Jakarta. In Bali, the community is very strong and we tried to get their support from local banjar [community] leaders. Whereas in Jakarta, the informal workers are deeply connected with the government because the government supports local communities through different initiatives. So we gained support from the informal workers through the community leaders and local governments as well.

PATA: Thank you very much, Ayu, for your time and for sharing with us a little bit about the development and implementation process of the Informal Workers Programme. It is a pleasure working with Wise Steps.

Ayu: We would also like to thank PATA for the collaboration. We are very happy to see a lot of informal workers benefiting from this programme!

For more details on the Informal Workers Programme in Bali and Jakarta, stay tuned on our blog or get in touch with us at To learn more about PATA's sustainability and social responsibility initiatives, please visit our Sustainability Resource Centre website:


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