Raiding Bali

The authorities’ continuing raids on bars, clubs and hotels to root out suspected illegal alcohol – imported wines and spirits upon which duty has not been paid – has now extended to other retail areas, such as shops and supermarkets, indicating that there is a sizeable black market supply chain.

But why is this? It is likely that the dearth of official supply has led businesses to look elsewhere for drinks, which their largely foreign guests expect while on holiday in Bali, or doing business here.

It reminds us of the dog trying to catch its tail: it’s a frustratingly futile exercise. Rather than rushing around trying to round up illegal liquor, the governments of both Bali and Jakarta should address the root cause.

That means either appointing an exclusive Bali distributor to supply the island’s tourist trade, or reorganising the only existing distributor, the Jakarta-based state firm Sarinah, to place a separate emphasis on Bali.

There are two fundamental issues that must be addressed. First, any religion-based reasoning for limiting imported alcohol supplies into Bali must take into account that Bali is unlike elsewhere in Indonesia, due to the large amount of foreigners here – last year almost 2 million overseas visitors came to Bali for holiday. For many foreign people, there exists in their countries a social culture that revolves around drinking. As one Jakarta government official, at the Culture and Tourism Ministry, told us earlier this year, “They drink alcohol like we drink tea.”

Second, lack of liquor in Bali will hurt the important tourism industry. If guests cannot have a quality drink at dinnertime, or at a bar or club, it is likely they will not come back, and – worse – will spread bad word of mouth. Without any meaningful campaign to advertise and market Bali abroad, word of mouth has traditionally, by default, served in its place.

The Tourism Board here would do well to point these salient truths out to Jakarta.

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