SEMINYAK ~ The continuing appeal of Bali as a top tourist destination was reflected at the end of 2006 as the number of foreigners arriving here rose, according to newly released central government figures, capping an enthusiastic year that saw the famed island yet again gain international recognition abroad as it topped lists of acclaimed publicationsâ€™ surveys as a choice global destination.
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
The numbers of foreigners arriving on vacation through Baliâ€™s Ngurah Rai International Airport increased in December to 119,280 people, translating into almost 3,850 people per day opting to spend the holiday season on the island, the Central Bureau of Statistics in Jakarta said.
â€œ…Baliâ€™s income from tourism is recovering,â€ noted bureau head Rusman Heriawan in a press briefing in the capital on Tuesday.
However, the number of foreign visitors arriving through 13 ports of entry in Indonesia from January to November 2006 totaled 3.59 million, a dip of 4.6 percent compared to the same period a year earlier, the bureau said.
Meanwhile Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik has forecast foreign tourist arrivals to Indonesia at a heyday level of up to 5.5 million for this year.
The nationâ€™s tourism, particularly that of Bali, said the minister, was currently receiving a boost from domestic travelers.
In December, Vice President Yusuf Kalla instructed all tourism operators and agents in the country to use Bali as a springboard to develop tourism across the nation.
Drawing comparisons between Indiaâ€™s famed Taj Mahal and Malaysiaâ€™s relatively newer Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, for a fleeting time the worldâ€™s tallest structure, Kalla said Indonesian tourism should be branded under a â€œBeautiful Bali Indonesiaâ€ slogan.
The central government says it will open more representative offices around the world in order to better inform people about Indonesia and its tourism attractions, thereby increasing the countryâ€™s presence in the hotly contested international tourism arena and drawing more visitors to these shores.
Along with these developments, Baliâ€™s tourism-orientated Badung Regency, where most of the islandâ€™s tourist industry is located, has launched a campaign of its own to lure foreigners to the island.
Branded Bali #1 Destination 2001, it aims to clean up the islandâ€™s image and develop its infrastructure to leading international levels, including a multimillion-dollar upgrade and expansion of the airport to handle higher numbers of passengers.
The local government says funding for the developments will come from taxation, and that hundreds of illegally operated villas on the island â€“ that accept paying guests â€“ do not contribute to the coffers and are therefore being targeted in an amnesty program to offer them a chance of becoming legitimate business as opposed to under-the-radar operations.
Dealing with illegal villas in this way, the government says, is also good for the environment, as few have sewage or other treatment facilities and therefore are partly to blame for waste that inundates beach areas and surrounding waters during the rainy season and lessens touristsâ€™ image of Bali. [www.keepbaligreen.org]
During 2006, meanwhile, Bali was again named by leading American, Australian and other travel publications that published surveys of its readersâ€™ choices as the top island destination, beating places like Thailand and Hawaii.
For the Christmas and New Year just past, hoteliers and airlines in Bali reported stronger-than-usual demand to be here for the celebrations as local and foreign tourists flocked to the island.