In the February 13, 2004 edition of the Indonesian-language Bali Post, the outgoing Chief of the Bali Tourism Authority, Dr. I Gede Pitana, offered his comments on the paper's editorial page regarding Indonesia's new visa policy and its impact on Bali's image as a tourism destination.
While acknowledging the right and responsibility of every country to protect its borders and sovereignty, Dr. Pitana contended that the new visa policy and how it is being administered will have far-reaching implications for the island's economy and its competitiveness as a world tourism destination.
According to the Professor of Tourism at Bali's Udayana University, the rapid growth of Indonesia's tourism sector, now the largest contributor of foreign exchange to the National economy after the Petroleum, can be traced to the liberalization of the visa policy in 1983. In that year, the nationals of some 48 countries were essentially granted free 60 day stays in Indonesia upon arrival at any main international gateway. In citing proof of the effectiveness of this policy in stimulating national tourism, Dr. Pitana pointed to a total tourist inflow of 170,505 in 1983 that had grown to nearly 5 million visitors in 2003. That's an annual growth rate of approximately 27%.
In the wake of the WTC tragedy and Bali bombing, Dr. Pitana underlined the shock and amazement in tourism circles when President Megawati issued the new visa policy in March of 2003. Saying that the policy served to make Indonesia uncompetitive in its efforts to attract tourists, he questioned the timing and the direction of the new policy at a time when other countries were racing to create additional incentives for tourism.
In response to those who said the new policy was a necessary response to improve national security, Dr. Pitana felt such arguments were strangely at odds with the fact that those arrested by Indonesian police in connection with various terrorist incidents were overwhelmingly Indonesian citizens, a goup that is unaffected by any change in the national visa policy.
Continuing his examination of the new policy, Dr. Pitana also questioned the thinking of officials who put forward economic necessity as a defense for the new policy. Citing research carried out by the Casa Grande Bali (Bali Hotel Association) and several leading Balinese economists, he underlined the possibility that tourism numbers will plummet and that both backward and forward linkages to the tourism economy will be adversely affected. Clearly, vast sub-sectors of Bali's economy are strongly linked to tourism and, according to Dr. Pitana, any revenues collected in visa fees will be insignificant in comparison to the cost of lost tourist spending to local economies.
The Quest for Quality Tourists
The former head of Bali's tourism industry also questioned those who felt the new policy would prove effective in luring quality tourists to Bali. Asking what constitutes a quality tourist, he suggested the new visa fee would likely prove a disincentive to families visiting Bali and the large backpacker market.
Dr. Pitana also suggested that current arguments demanding reciprocity in formulating national visa policies were much too narrowly focused. He pointed out that while Indonesia desperately needs tourist visitors from countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and other developed countries, he doubted if those same countries' economies felt an equally urgent need for Indonesian visitors. He went on to argue that greater weight should be given by national policymakers to the needs of the Indonesian people than to the less compelling arguments of personal pride based on narrow issues of reciprocity.
Overly Strict Enforcement?
Admitting that the initial introduction of the new visa policy has been remarkably smooth, he questioned the overly strict interpretation of the rules that in the first 8 days of the new policy caused 61 foreign nationals to be refused entry to Bali.
Those individuals, not on the list of 32 countries and territories eligible for a visa-free stay or a purchased visa on arrival, were turned away by immigration officials at Bali's airport. Sympathizing with the certain disappointment of the 61 people travelers who were obviously neither criminals or willful violators of immigratuion rules, Dr. Pitana said such actions by immigration officials would have a strong negative impact on tourism's image and suggested that some flexibility should be extended during the first six months of the new policy's introduction.
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