Local watersports operators are struggling to survive the competition that pits them against foreign-owned companies armed with not only stronger financial power, but also better human resources and technology, a senior operator revealed.
“Up to 90 percent of the watersports businesses on the island are owned or controlled by non-Balinese, mostly by foreign investors,” the Indonesian Marine Tourism Association (Gahawisri) Bali chapter chairman, Yos WK Amerta, said.
He pointed out that in East Nusa Tenggara’s Labuan Bajo and Papua’s Raja Ampat only one local operator survived the fierce competition. Lombok and Manado had two local operators each. In Bali, the situation was slightly better with dozens of local watersports businesses still surviving the competition, although their market share was continuously decreasing.
“Out of dozens of local businessmen who pioneered watersports in Bali decades ago, only five are still involved in this sector.”
Yos is one of the pioneers of watersports in Bali, having immersed himself in the business for more than 20 years. He offered his thoughts on the development of the island’s watersports and the domination of foreign investors without any trace of bitterness or resentment.
In fact, he admitted that the local operators had yet to be able to manage all the potential the island had to offer.
“The island offers a huge opportunity in watersports business, but local operators have yet to acquire all the necessary elements to manage that opportunity in the most effective way.”
He remarked that watersports and water-related leisure activities were tourist attractions invented in foreign lands and introduced to the island by foreign entrepreneurs.
“It means that the foreign investors and operators were already a couple of steps ahead in terms of knowledge and experience compared to local operators,” he said.
Yet, according to Yos, the main obstacle most of the local operators stumbled with was financial capital. Water-related leisure was a capital intensive business, Yos stressed.
“The equipment is all very expensive, from diving computers to wetsuits to scuba tanks. They all need to be overhauled, or even replaced, on a regular basis. We need to hire licensed, expert divers; operational costs are also very high. We need a huge amount of cash to run a watersports business.”
Unfortunately, it was also very difficult for watersports operators to get soft loans from the banks. In addition, the government had yet to issue a policy that would make it easier for the operators to get loans.
“We need low-interest loans to enable us to expand our businesses and only the government has the authority and mechanism to facilitate the issuance of sector-specific soft loans.”