Bali, Indonesia–Thomas Manuel, a 25-year-old American digital nomad residing in Bali, has found himself at the heart of a controversy over gentrification. After posting a video on TikTok outlining the affordability of living on the Indonesian island, he received backlash from users accusing him of contributing to the island’s gentrification.
According to an Insider report, Manuel’s video, which received over three million views and 608,000 likes as of June 8, demonstrated the inexpensive cost of living in Bali. He highlighted his $300 monthly rent for a guest house, including utilities and a bi-weekly housekeeping service. The tropical-style dwelling, nestled just outside Canggu, a resort village, is a stone’s throw away from the beach.
As per the report, Manuel emphasized the inexpensive dining options, spending between $5 and $7 per meal, with high-end dining experiences costing less than $50. He shared that nightlife, including cocktails and shots, is cheap.
However, the report noted that his portrayal of life in Bali drew criticism from TikTok users. Kaechi Lah, one such user, called out Manuel’s video as a representation of gentrification, arguing that while digital nomads condemn gentrification in places like New York and Los Angeles, they paradoxically seem to celebrate it in Bali.
Indeed, since Bali reopened its borders in 2021, short-term rental prices have soared, with villas reaching up to 30 million Indonesian rupiahs or $2,014 per month.
As per the report, Manuel highlighted his support for local businesses and respect for Bali’s culture and traditions in response to the criticism. He clarified that he holds a tourism and social visa and only works while traveling outside Bali.
The Indonesian government has fostered the influx of digital nomads with its “second-home” visa, allowing foreigners to stay for five or ten years. However, they have also issued a “dos and don’ts” card to guide foreigners in respecting local customs and rules. Gentrification, notably, is not part of this list.
The report noted that Manuel’s TikTok controversy underscores the complex dynamics between the influx of digital nomads and their chosen destinations’ local economies and cultures.
Learn more in the Insider report.