Although Bali’s tourists increased by 32 percent in the last year, many visitor sites continue to lack basic facilities. Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, chairman of the Bali Tourism Board (BTB), spoke with Carla Albertí de la Rosa about how the tourism industry’s low budget holds back its development.
Q How did the US embassy in Jakarta get its New Year’s Eve travel warning so wrong?
A I don’t know where they got this from; they say they got it from the Bali Tourism Board. But as the chairman of the BTB I never gave any statement like that.
Q The embassy said the Bali Tourism Board “widely distributed” Governor Pastika’s warning of a possible attack on that night. Did the BTB widely distribute the message? How did the embassy get hold of it?
A No, we didn’t. I don’t know how the embassy got hold of it.
Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya: The problem with promoting Bali and Indonesia is the government has no money.
Q The warning is still on the embassy’s website. If it’s wrong, why is it still there – isn’t it damaging to Bali?
A Of course it’s damaging. Lots of people keep calling me but I never said such a thing. We have to work it out and talk with the embassy. I’ve just arrived from Europe and we haven’t talked with them yet.
Q Bali had just over 2 million foreign visitors last year and the target for 2010 is just slightly higher. That’s not very ambitious.
A We had an increase of 32 percent in tourists last year compared to 2008. We need to talk carefully with the government about this as we have a different view. Bali is very small and it doesn’t need a great volume of tourists. Bali’s tourism is based on culture and we would like to keep this culture, to maintain our identity. If we have many tourists coming to Bali our identity will be damaged. So the government should stop building hotels. But they want money; that’s why they’re always giving more licenses to build.
Q So what is the Bali Tourism Board doing to attract foreign visitors this year?
A We work with the central government because the local government doesn’t have any money to promote Bali. So we coordinate with the private sector to go to all the fairs around the world. That works to update all the facilities; it’s the most important thing. The fairs attract visitors because people know about Bali and they also promote travel firms.
Q Why can Indonesia not come up with a highly effective marketing and advertising slogan like Malaysia’s Truly Asia, Thailand’s Amazing Thailand or India’s Incredible India, which are extremely effective at increasing tourist numbers.
A The problem is that Indonesia has no money. The government has US$25 million for the tourism industry this year. Before we only had $15 million. If you compare us to Malaysia, which has $175 million, it’s nothing. We have to build up our image, work on our identity. Bali should make better use of the media but the problem is that there’s no money from the government.
Q Wouldn’t it be a good idea to award an account to a major international advertising agency, whose creative division could devise a proper campaign, based on image and a slogan?
A Yes, only if we can get a higher budget for the tourism sector.
Q What happened with Visit Indonesia Year 2008, which carried over to Visit Indonesia Year 2009? The campaign seemed to fall spectacularly flat. What, if anything, did it achieve?
A Although it was just under 5 percent, at least there was a slight increase in arrivals. But the budget was so low – what can you do with $15 million? Out of the 5-percent increase in arrivals in Indonesia, Bali had more arrivals than the rest of the country.
Q The Culture and Tourism Ministry has blamed local travel agencies for failing to promote Indonesia abroad. Surely that’s not their job; it’s the government’s. So why is the government blaming the private sector?
A The government should promote the image of the country. Then the private sector can also promote Indonesia. But sometimes the government is confused and they don’t know what their role is. Agencies can also promote the image of Indonesia but it’s not their main thing. In Singapore and Malaysia it’s the government that is paying for their country’s promotion.
Q Why are tourist facilities so bad in Bali? At almost all tourist sites, for example, there are no toilet facilities. Isn’t that something very basic that should be provided for foreigners?
A Tourism in Bali is controlled by three groups.
The private sector is very well managed. But the government is not properly managed, not well equipped. And the community is also not well managed to arrange facilities for tourists. In some temples, it’s not just the toilets that are missing, but also the parking facilities, shops, guides, electricity and security. The government and the community need to improve a lot.
Q Why is there no effective public transportation system in Bali for tourists?
A Bali’s government, as well as the national government, is not very focused on tourism if you look at the small budget designated to the tourism industry. We do have taxis and motorbikes that you can’t rent in other places. But transportation is a competence of the central government and they don’t invest enough in this.
Q Is there a role for foreign consuls here in helping to promote Bali in their own countries?
A Indirectly they do. But the honorary consuls here are mainly helping citizens from their own countries in case they have a problem.
Q With the growth of the online community worldwide, what can Bali do – as a distinct entity within Indonesia – to ensure that the island’s tourism message is seen and heard as widely as possible?
A Our culture is very strong, so we have our own identity. The internet is focused on Bali and offers the many things there are on the island, but if you compare it to Thailand, Malaysia or other destinations in Asia, it can still be pushed. The government can do a lot. We have the Indonesian government, the Bali government and the private sector. But the government has a small budget for advertising in media compared to other countries. It can be pushed because it’s one of the most effective mediums. We should exploit the internet more.
Q Bali’s tourism efforts are criticised in some quarters as uncoordinated. What should be done to fully market Bali as a “brand” globally? At the moment this is left basically to the overseas-based travel industry. Can Bali build on its recognition to produce a single overall message that would put the island in the forefront of the international travel market?
A Since the 1980s the BTB has been coordinating the promotion of the private sector. But some of the associations are not joining the BTB.
It’s the government’s job to promote Bali as a destination. The private sector should join to help promoting Bali.
The government in Bali is planning to promote Bali on CNN. That’s a very good idea but I would like to see it put into practice.
Bali can convey an overall message.
Q It sometimes seems that because there are so many individual stakeholders, a large and properly coordinated Bali marketing presence is difficult to achieve. What would you do to solve that problem?
A The law on tourism has just been approved, in 2009. Once it’s applied things will changed a lot. But now, most of the associations are not recognised by the law so the government doesn’t pay them much attention. So the tourism associations look after themselves and don’t work closely with the government. Hence, the government doesn’t know most of the problems we are facing. Once the law is put into practice properly the situation will be different.
Q Bali has been seeking direct (non-stop) European flights to boost tourist appeal. Is this feasible outside the specific charter sector?
A We want to open the skies in Bali and have more tourists. It’s feasible; the more flights the better.
Q Does Bali need its own airline? Air Paradise was a spectacular failure. Regional routes are well served by existing airlines. But do you see a role for a specific Bali-based airline, promoting Balinese culture through its cabin crew and onboard environment, for example?
A Why not? We would like to see this.
Q The government has just announced it is scrapping the seven-day $10 tourist visa, and all tourists will now get the 30-day $25 visa, which may then be extended by a further 30 days. The Culture and Tourism Ministry has said it is worried that the scrapping of the seven-day visa might turn short-stay visitors away. What’s your view?
A We have the same view on the issue. They shouldn’t get rid of the short-stay visa. Asian travelers stay for a short time in the country, so it will be very bad for Indonesia as a whole.