A Chilly Welcome

It has become the norm at Bali’s international airport that foreigners arriving for a holiday must first endure scandalously long waiting periods, in hot, sticky queues, before they are granted a visa to enter the country. It is not at all uncommon for visitors to wait up to two hours, standing in line, to be processed.

Warm images and tropical perceptions of Bali that lure people from around the world to our shores come to a screeching, shocking halt in the airport’s visa hall. Immigration officials are indifferent, rude and slow – and there are rarely enough of them actually present at the booths to effectively handle the high numbers of foreign arrivals.

This unfortunate situation is not a good fit with Bali’s tourism industry, which all year has been experiencing a marked uptick, with record numbers of people opting to come here for their holidays. As the year began, tourism chieftains were revising down their projections for foreign arrivals, due to the troubled global economic climate, but now it looks as though 2009 might be a stellar year, even breaching the 2 million mark. This is all the more remarkable given that there is no effective overseas promotion of Bali tourism.

There is no corresponding attention paid to the welfare – or welcome – of people arriving here for the first time. Bali’s legendary affability and merry reception are nowhere evident; they are usurped by a clunking bureaucracy whose officers often are all too willing to engage in nefarious self-enriching acts. Dozens are under investigation over aberrations in visa-on-arrival funds.

Given the situation, it is small wonder that upmarket accommodation providers arrange – for money, which may or may not be accountable – to fast-track their guests through the logjam; or that, on a wink and a nod to some cruising official, and anecdotally for US$20, some arriving visitors stuck in the queue find they can get a magic-carpet ride into the customs hall.

Inertia and corruption pervade all aspects of state entities in this country, and immigration is no exception. Reform from the top down is an immediate requirement but is unlikely to eventuate. In this case, biting the hand that feeds it best describes the situation of sloth and uncaring arrogance that greets our visitors.

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