In Bali, an Air of Heady Optimism

Bali Airport signMajor Efforts Underway to Boost Tourism Industry during a Seminal 2008

By William J. Furney
Managing Editor
The Bali Times
With staff reporter Rian Dewanto

RENON/DENPASAR/JAKARTA ~ The signs say it all: gone are the longstanding Indonesian-only directions around Ngurah Rai International Airport, befuddling to first-time vacationers; in their place are the languages of powerhouse nations like China and Saudi Arabia whose increasingly affluent peoples the authorities wish to attract here.

“Every signboard, for any directions, such as toilets, restaurants, praying rooms and gates are now in four languages (English, Arabic, Japanese and Mandarin). We have finished installing them all,” airport management spokesman Ahmad Munir told The Bali Times this week.

The central government in Jakarta has set a lofty target for foreign tourist arrivals within the next two years – a circa 50-percent increase to 10 million people.

Last year, just over 6.29 million people traveled through Bali’s airport, almost half via the newly renovated international terminal, while 59,300 aircraft arrived and departed, according to airport management figures obtained by The Times.

Close to 80,000 kilos of luggage was handled at the airport, slightly over 53,634 kilos cargo went in and out and 645.788 kilos of mail was handled, the data show.

So far this year, April has been the busiest month for international arrivals, with 140,406 people landing in Bali, compared to 106,896 during the same month in 2006, a 31.3-percent rise. Data for May were not yet available.

Management figures show that with international passenger service charges alone (Rp100,000 per passenger), the airport earned Rp286.7 billion (US$32.7 million) in fess.

The airport upgrades and other tourism-improving measures come as officials gear up for what they hope will be a tourism bonanza in 2008, a year that also sees the first-ever Olympic event staged in Bali, the Asian Beach Games. Some 10,000 people from 45 counties are expected to descend on the island for the nine-day event, from athletes to officials and media, the organizers tell The Times.

Preparations are going according to plan for the October Games, Rita Subowo, president of the Indonesian National Olympic Committee and director general of the Games’ organizing committee, said after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week.

“We have just updated the president of Indonesia about our preparations for the international event. Everything is well underway, from venue readiness to promoting the event in local and international media,” she said.

Last Friday, Jetty Pattiasina, director for Games services, met in Sanur with Bali Tourism Board officials, saying afterwards: “We are planning to work closely with various hotels, transportation companies and catering services during the event. Coordination is key to the success of this event.”

The Games’ deputy director general, Djoko Pramono, has also been meeting with officials, in Bali and Jakarta, as well as sports federations to gauge the technical aspects of the sports.

“We will do our utmost best to make this event successful in every sense of the word. We are very thorough in our efforts to make sure each competition is up to the standards of the Olympic Council of Asia,” he said.

Separately, the central government plans to spend Rp150 billion ($17 million) on promotional campaigns for its Visit Indonesia Year 2008, according to marketing chief at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Thamrin Bhiwana Bachri.

Countries on the target list include China and India, as well as in the Middle East, he said, as the authorities look beyond traditional markets such as Asia and Australia to bolster the country’s tourism fortunes.

“We want to gain momentum [during 2008] to increase Indonesia’s competitive advantages in global tourism,” said Bachri.

Bali is set to also attract the eyes of the world in December this year, when governments from around the world attend what is expected to be a controversial climate change conference. Some 10,000 people are expected to attend the event, according to the United Nations.

The government’s contentious visa policy remains in place, however, despite assurances last year that parts of it, notably the length of time afforded to tourists to visit Indonesia, would be changed, according to the Directorate General of Immigration in Jakarta.

“The visa-on-arrival makes it easy for foreigners to come to Indonesia, which gives us more foreign exchange in return. The policy remains until there is another policy that will replace it,” spokesman Teguh Prayitno told The Times.

“Free visas are granted to foreign nationals on a reciprocal basis. If our country grants free visas for others citizens, they must do the same with ours.”

Therefore, most tourists will have to continue to pay $25 for a 30-visa to visit the country, he said, adding that in 2006, the government earned Rp247.6 billion ($27.3 million) in visa fees.

Up to February 2004, most foreign nationals entering the country for vacation purposes could avail of a free visa that lasted for 60 days, but the then-government of president Megawati Sukarnoputri scrapped the measure, saying it was being abused.

Prayitno said an additional 11 counties had been added to the list of 52 nations that already avail of the visa-on-arrival facility, but pending the issuance of an official directive on the matter, he declined to name the countries.

“Seen from the revenue gained, the visa-on-arrival is more successful than the free visa policy. Its administration is fast, easy and covers more countries than the free visa policy.”

Passengers arriving through Bali’s international arrivals terminal that The Times spoke to said they encountered no difficulties with their immigration papers.

“The service is not bad. It’s good compared to other countries. I had no problem getting the visa. It took me 15 minutes to finish everything – get my luggage, get the visa. So far there’s no problem with the service,” Frenchwoman Isabelle Homsy said.

Of immigration officers, she added: “They don’t smile a lot, but that’s okay.”

Chris Blackmore, a Canadian winemaker, said his experience with immigration was one of swift service, and courtesy.

“The immigration process was good. We were first in line, so it was quick – it only took five seconds. We handed over the money and finished. I got a lot of smiles – excellent.”


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