It took a man and his wife two and a half hours to get through airport immigration and customs. He described it to this newspaper as “the most arrogant and understaffed service of any airport I had the misfortune to be processed through.” He said it was the worst in the world, and “My wife and I will never return to Bali while there is the slightest chance that we’ll be treated the way we were.” He added that the experience had “left the wrong impression about Bali.”
This, increasingly, is not a rare sentiment.
Elsewhere, tourists — the lifeblood of our economy — are being chased around the streets in fear of their lives, by the vicious street dogs that the island is riddled with. Many have written to us with their stories of holidays ruined and vow never to come to Bali again because of the hazardous dog problem. And that’s not all: close to 100 people are now known to have died in the rabies outbreak in Bali, now two years long, and this week more foreign media warned of the crisis here and included in their reports government warnings for people to stay away.
Meanwhile, our beaches are covered in rubbish, despite ephemeral attacks on them by bulldozers and the civic-minded; our public transportation is non-existent; and our traffic is a voluminous mess that is set to be cast into total bedlam with the impending construction of an overpass in the Tuan-Kuta area — though even that plan has itself been plunged into chaos by differing officials’ desires.
This is the serene image of paradise that the authorities attempt to promote? Just what are people coming here for? It is a battle to get into the island; a fight to stay alive; and a struggle to get around. Indeed, from what we are hearing, many people can’t wait to leave.
Glossy travel magazines can award Bali the “best island” in the world all they want — purportedly voted as such by the publications’ own readers. The unfortunate reality points to anything but.
It is a collective and shocking indictment on the management of Bali and that of the tourism industry. If this is where we are now, how will Bali look in five or 10 years’ time?
These issues do not stem from a lack of funding. The visa-on-arrival facility, for instance, raises tens of millions of US dollars annually for the central government. Monthly salaries of immigration officials are less than $200 — yet when the immigration arrivals hall fills up with hundreds of exhausted people many of the visa desks are empty.
A major Hollywood film has done the promotional work of Bali that the authorities here have consistently been unable to perform; and as Eat Pray Love opens worldwide, the spotlight on Bali will be drastically dimmed by the fierce outbreak of rabies. No one here seems concerned: Great packs of stray dogs still roam the island unfettered.
Perhaps when foreign tourists begin staying away in droves the authorities will finally begin to act. But by then it may be far too late.