Keeping the Lights On

Published January 11, 2021 in RESORT

I can’t wait to see my Wakatobi friends, hug them, and thank them for what they have done to keep the Resort alive and safe. They are my second family away from home.” ~Guest Louise-Andrée Belanger

Travel restrictions and lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic created unique challenges for dive operators around the world — Wakatobi included. But although the resort was not able to welcome guests through the majority of 2020, we did not simply shut everything down and turn off the lights.

The resort and surrounding reefs are in prime condition, thanks to many of our staff and local supporters. Photo by Wakatobi Resort

The resort and surrounding reefs are in prime condition, thanks to many of our staff and local supporters. Photo by Wakatobi Resort

With no firm date for reopening in sight, and no guest revenue to offset operating expenses, Wakatobi’s management team knew that keeping the lights on would require both strategic planning and economic sacrifice. As the last guests departed in March of 2020, these plans were put in place.

One of our top priorities over the past months has remained the welfare of the local people and communities that depend on Wakatobi for much-needed revenue. So rather than furloughing our local staff and guides, we chose to provide rotating part-time employment for some 160 local workers and kept salary payments flowing to those for whom there was no work. We also continued to pay health insurance costs and contribute to the pension fund for all. In addition to local employees, we also kept some 41 of our off-premises staff on payroll, including back-office workers, technicians, the Bali team, and the Pelagian crew.

“In this time of uncertainty, it is comforting to know that I am working for a solid organization that does not abandon its people.”

Wakatobi’s underwater photography coach Marco Fierli states that “In this time of uncertainty, it is comforting to know that I am working for a solid organization that does not abandon its people.”  Dive Center Manager Chris Gloor echoes this sentiment, noting “I’m proud to work for a company able to walk the fine line between cutting expenses to survive and remembering that our employees are like our family and need all the help they can get.”

In addition to providing ongoing employment and support for local communities, Wakatobi has continued to fund reef patrols, social programs, and lease payments to the villages. These actions have saved 20 jobs, provided much-needed funds to villagers, and ensured that reefs remain protected and pristine. Compliance in the marine sanctuaries remains high despite the absence of tourism, and the locals are able to help to monitor the reefs and respect all no-take areas.

Lorenz and the team have spotted an increase in larger marine life at deeper depths, including this aggregation of stingrays at the site known as Trailblazer. Photo by Chris Gloor

Lorenz and the team have spotted an increase in larger marine life at deeper depths, including this aggregation of stingrays at the site known as Trailblazer. Photo by Chris Gloor

Wakatobi’s founder Lorenz Mäder reports that reefs are in prime condition. Waters were about 2 degrees cooler than in the previous El Nino years, providing favorable conditions that have allowed the corals to thrive. This revitalization was especially apparent in areas that had suffered damage prior to the establishment of the marine reserve. Lorenz and the team have spotted an increase in larger marine life at deeper depths, including giant trevallies, wahoo, barracuda, tuna, larger groupers, eagle rays, and reef sharks.

The “hibernation team” engages in regular reef patrols on the surface and underwater and continue to maintain old moorings and install new ones. Pictured (l to r) are Marco Fierli, Chiara Sola, Lorenz Mäder, Judith Terol Oto, Ramon Crevilles, and Chris Gloor.

The “hibernation team” engages in regular reef patrols on the surface and underwater and continue to maintain old moorings and install new ones. Pictured (l to r) are Marco Fierli, Chiara Sola, Lorenz Mäder, Judith Terol Oto, Ramon Crevilles, and Chris Gloor.

Those who stayed on at the resort continue to monitor and patrol the reefs, maintain old moorings, and have been installing new ones. They also devote time to beach cleanup and collecting debris found while snorkeling and diving. “It makes me feel good in more than one way,” says Dive Experience Manager Chiara Sola. “Not only do I help the environment, but it also makes me look forward to the time the resort will be open again — like a host cleaning and prepping the house before the guests arrive!”

While guests have been away the team had the opportunity to give the Wakatobi dive boat fleet a welcome facelift. They’re ready to go! 

Wakatobi’s ‘sprucing up’ efforts extended to many aspects of the resort and dive operation. All the dive boats have been updated; the property has seen a number of significant repairs and improvements; the jetty has been widened and smoothed, and the airstrip received an upgrade under the supervision of a certified runway engineer.

“It’s wonderful being on the reefs with no other divers but my colleagues and Lorenz, but not being able to share what I see with our guests makes it much less enjoyable. I miss our guests very much!” ~ DEM Chiara Sola

As Wakatobi looks forward to a reopening sometime in the coming months, guests are already anticipating and planning their return. “I certainly believe that Wakatobi guests are loyal and will continue to return after this pandemic eases up. I miss it and can barely wait to be able to get back,” says guest Paul Moliken. “What I look forward to is the profusion of underwater life, the vibrancy of the colors, the great shape the coral is in, and the ease of diving.”

Miss the Wakatobi sunsets? They have been nothing less than spectacular during the pandemic hibernation. Photo by Lorenz Mäder

Miss the Wakatobi sunsets? They have been nothing less than spectacular during the pandemic hibernation. Photo by Lorenz Mäder

“We look forward to our return trip and plan to stay longer so we can have more days of diving as well as a rest day occasionally to enjoy the beach and snorkeling in the shallows,” say guests Brenda Rice and Lisa Liljedahl. “We also anticipate the wonderful cuisine prepared and served by the culinary staff.”

“I love the wonderful, sweet, helpful Wakatobi staff,” says guest Steve Lyons. “I have so many happy memories and I truly miss their kind smiles. I am pleased to know that they will make it through these difficult times, both financially and health-wise, and look forward to returning to Wakatobi and seeing some familiar faces.”

After having to cancel her planned October 2020 return to Wakatobi, guest Louise-Andrée Belanger has booked a stay for October of 2021. “I have never been so proud and relieved to hear that the owners of Wakatobi reacted so quickly to put into action a survival plan for the Resort,” she says. “I can’t wait to see my Wakatobi friends, hug them, and thank them for what they have done to keep the Resort alive and safe. They are my second family away from home.”

As of January 2021, the specific date at which Wakatobi will begin welcoming guests has not been decided. But thanks to the ongoing efforts of staff and management, we are ready to open the doors as soon as international travel has normalized and borders are open again.

Ready to plan your next Wakatobi visit?  Inquire at office@wakatobi.com or complete a quick trip inquiry here >.  We’re here to help, contact us today!