Bali’s Receding Hairline, Its Tourism
By Bali BS News
Jul 27, 2005, 01:21
Most Bali pundits and spin merchants were, up to recently, all trying to have us believe that Bali’s tourism industry had more than recovered from the bombings of October 2002. But, in the face of common sense questions such as “If business was great 12 months ago and has gotten even better each month since, then why are hotels offering cheap season rates during the summer season?” Most except perhaps the outrageously deluded seem finally to be publicly accepting, or rather not mentioning the truth. And that is a good thing, because only once you accept the truth can you improve.
Of course, the tell-tale comparative lack of westerners on the streets goes hand in hand with the news of the reduced number of flights and airlines coming into Bali. So where did all this “tourism is great” hype come from, why did they do it, and how did they justify their claims? The hype came and still sometimes comes from a distressed travel industry, to make us all feel safe by token of the perception that others feel confident enough to go to Bali. As in the sheep syndrome, where one follows another. And from “cooking the books”, by including domestic arrivals and increased visitors from neighboring Asian countries on highly discounted packages where it is highly dubious that anyone makes any money from. In short, the industry desire being to lure those more profitable western tourists back with nothing more then “clever” words, which sadly perhaps only they feel are clever.
The methodology of Bali’s travel industry may be linked to the market and street vendors of Bali who will always tell you what they think you want to hear; “Yes, yes, best quality”. Also perhaps a mirroring of the old edict as practiced by the most aggressive “hawkers” (street salespeople) that they have to sell hard because each individual tourist is never likely to come back, but there will always be new tourists. The trouble for the Balinese and their afflicted tourist industry is that western travelers are becoming increasingly savvier and such clearly intelligence insulting industry claims actually turn people off and with it away. In this day and age of communications, people get to hear about the aggressive hawkers in Kintamani before they even go there, and ultimately decide not to go anyway as a result. So the industry is likely hurting itself in the main by selling too hard. However, although the “sell, sell to the money tree tourists” culture of the tourism business in Bali surely has a negative effect, it is not the main reason why people are clearly now avoiding the island. It is what potential visitors hear about the risks of going to Bali that is keeping them away. And it is all thanks to the every increasing awareness through media, such as the Internet.
Unfortunately the everyday Balinese, perhaps unable to understand why the tourists have deserted them, as they only think good of the visitors, often just sound like a reworked Pete Seeger ballad, i.e. “Where have all the tourists gone?” Conversely, the management behind the large hotels and travel firms probably know what the problems are, but simply do not like the answers. It seems quite clear that the main reasons tourists stay away are, dare we suggest in order; a) The risk of terrorism or rather warnings of potential additional terrorism risk by foreign governments to their citizens, b) The risk that an innocent tourist may have drugs planted in their baggage and face a lengthy prison sentence in a hot, crowded Indonesian jail, or even the death penalty, c) Increasingly blatantly corrupt police officers openly shaking down poor unsuspecting “Hello officer. Sorry, what did you say?” tourists who, up ‘til then believed anyone in uniform automatically adopted the principles set out for those clothes, d) Reports of soaring crime rates including tourist kidnappings and visitor’s child / infant rape while under the protection of the hotel crèche, e) Aggressive hawkers that never allow you a moment’s peace, and finally f) Such poor standards in hotels where people compare US$100 per night rooms in Bali with US$60 a night rooms in Thailand or US$40 a night rooms in Vietnam and ask “Where’s the honey for the extra money?” Does anyone doubt or challenge that order?
If we accept the order of reasons why tourists are “boycotting” Bali, the sad irony is that the main 4 reasons can be put down to a lazy, ineffective, corrupt police force. From waving on bus drivers for a small “thank you” while on terrorism duty at the ports, to compromising the evidence (by man handling it and destroying any fingerprint evidence) in one of Bali’s greatest known drug cases (Schapelle Corby), to pulling over nearly every foreign bike rider or car driver to accuse them of breaking some law and demanding a spot fine, to delegating police duties in villages to armed vigilantes with their own, mostly nasty agendas. The Balinese police force must be Bali tourism’s number one enemy! It was not that long ago when aggressive hawkers, Bali belly and bad hotels were the hot complaint topics on travel forums. Now it is seemingly all police related.
Of course the attitude of vendors and some hotels does not help. Remember well the reports of so called luxury hotels on Nusa Dua Beach after the October 2002 bombings, faced with many empty rooms, who offered special prices to get the tourists back, and then served them one egg omelets for breakfast and turned off guest room air conditioning systems. Of course, not all Balinese hotels are bad, and not all street sellers oppressively rude. But is it right to report the wonderful minority or the clearly less worthy majority? Especially when it comes to police corruption when the question, given how people reportedly pay to become police officers on low salaries, “Is there a decent, honest police officer on Bali?” Isn’t it ironic perhaps that Foreign Governments may hand out terrorist related travel advisories to their citizens on the basis of reports that Bali's police officers are not doing their jobs? And that the clearly soaring crime rates would probably become dramatically decreasing embarrassment rates if only police officers would stop acting servants to their pockets?
Of course the major hoteliers and travel companies in Bali and Indonesia probably owe their existence and profit margins, albeit currently dwindling, to the Suharto era. So they are not likely to want to take the Suharto regime’s still “healthy” baby, the Indonesian police force to task. But that and competing with their South East Asian neighbors is surely the only way they will get the money trees back. If only they would wake up to the fact. It may not be an easy path, but tourism has changed, become better informed. There seems to be clear indication that there is hope yet for Bali in some respects with a limited number of hotels and villas that take the time out to give guests what they want and at the right price. But what can be done to protect potential visitors against the effects of a corrupt police force? Would you put your trust, wallet or even life in Bali police hands?