Sumba looks beyond Covid-19

Ratenggaro village in Sumba

It’s been a challenging year for Inge De Lathauwer and the whole team at Sumba Hospitality Foundation. The resort, Maringi Sumba, which provided some income for the school, stalled. Most funds raised went towards Covid-related health issues. Tourism to Sumba has stalled, jobs and income have been lost across the island. But still, the Belgian founder remains undaunted and is looking forward to the future, specifically May 2022, when this latest batch of students complete their education. “No one fails, that is our responsibility,” she says. 


Please read along as Inge not only openly shares her fears and worries but also looks forward beyond this crisis. Because not even Covid19 gets in the way of her motivation and positivity. The following interview was previously published by WIT.


Has Covid19 has had an impact on the previous school year?

“Absolutely. We sent all students home for four months last year (from April till the end of July). Normally our school year was July 2019 till the end of May 2020 followed by a six-month internship. We had to extend the school year from August till the end of November to get all students back up to the standard before going on internship. This resulted in higher operating costs as we needed to keep all staff onboard even without students and hotel guests, as it was uncertain when we could reopen. We had to close our training hotel which normally provides us some income.”


What about the impact on Sumba in general?

“A lot of families in Sumba depend on income from family members who work outside Sumba. Because of Covid, many lost their jobs and this income stopped. The population in Sumba is already very underprivileged and became even more dependent on aid from the government and foundations.”

“In Sumba, health care is very limited and hospitals do not have the equipment nor facilities to handle Covid patients. A lot of people were very anxious about this situation. Thanks to the warm climate and people living in remote locations (bubbles) the number of Covid deaths wasn’t so high as elsewhere in the world and numbers and casualties were limited to the three larger cities in Sumba. The positive impact of Covid was that many remote villages received water tanks for hand washing and improvements were made for hygiene.”



Was Sumba Hospitality Foundation able to provide help?

“Yes, the head of our Foundation, Dempta Bato, played a very significant role in Sumba. He was one of the leaders who organized the distribution of clothes, soaps, food and created awareness, teaching about hygiene in remote villages. As a trusted foundation in Sumba, people and organizations sent us donations (clothes, money for food supplies, etc) for the urgent aid of the communities in Sumba. This was not linked to the advancement of our hospitality school but to support the wider communities in Sumba.”

“At the same time, we never abandoned our mission: helping Sumba through education and responsible tourism. Every student will be successful, no one fails, that is our responsibility. By having them with us during 11 months in boarding school and focusing a lot on personal development, not only hospitality skills, we have a good idea which student will fit best in which place. We have established loyal partnerships with high-end hotels and restaurants and our students are wanted in the job market. We managed, even in these Covid times, to find 60 internships (Kempinski, Grand Hyatt, Belmond, Nihi Sumba, Locavore, Aperitif) for our Batch 4 in November 2020.”


“Every student who enters the Sumba Hospitality Foundation will be successful, no one fails, that is our responsibility.” — Inge De Lathauwer


When will tourists find their way to Sumba again?

“Indonesia has been very affected by this pandemic, the purchasing power of Indonesians, who are very dependent on tourism income, has decreased substantially so domestic tourism is very low now. Another problem has been the requirement of many Covid tests between islands, which is costly to add to the travel budget.”

“We hope that the borders open soon for International travelers as Sumba was slowly getting recognized as an attractive destination. However, also more and more domestic travelers are interested in discovering their country, visiting places like Sumba. Sumba is a very appealing destination for people who already visited places like Bali and Java.

Being a very large and uncrowded destination with unspoiled beaches, an interesting animist culture, beautiful handicrafts like the famous Sumba ikats, it is definitely already on many Indonesians ‘bucket list. However, most people are still hesitant to travel because of the extra flight from Bali or Kupang. We hope to receive direct flights from Jakarta and Surabaya in the near future to boost tourism in Sumba.”


Is it too early to look ahead?

“No, it never is. We believe in the importance to provide excellent quality education for these students. Giving them good job opportunities and hope for a better future. The plan always was to be there for the long term and we are determined to continue our work.

“We have invested a lot of time and money last year in branding and new websites to increase our hotel revenue and reach more people for donations. There were also plans to organize a fundraising event in Singapore and Bali in 2021 to make our foundation more financially sustainable in the future. These events will have to wait until 2022 when this crisis has hopefully passed. 2021 is a transition year, but I am convinced tourism on Sumba will be back in 2022, stronger than ever.”

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