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Dialogue: Starwood's Alex Riva

Parting Thoughts from The Outgoing EAM of The Westin, Nusa Dua and Director of the BICC.

Bali News:
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(2/28/2006) managed to corner the outgoing Executive Assistant Manager of the Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali and Director of the Bali International Convention Center (BICC) on his way to his new position as Deputy General Manager of the Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur. After nearly 4 year in Bali, Alex took time to reflect on an island for which he holds a deep affection.

The Interview: Starwoodís Alex Riva After nearly four years in Bali, what do you see as the island's strongest selling points in terms of International tourism.

Riva: For years during my tenure in Thailand I always wondered what were the reasons for Bali to be a favorite island to a number of event organizers. The years I spent in Bali definitely helped me to understand. The "plusses" are unmatched in any other destination in this part of the world. The combination of incentive-class accommodation standards, value for money, year around favorable climate, genuine hospitality, variety of activities, diversity of the natural elements, and I could go on and on. As we all know, following the October 1, 2005, bombing Bali is going through a tough patch at the moment. In your opinion, what are the top priorities for Bali to recover lost territory in the shortest possible time?

Riva: I am a believer that there is 'no-can-fix-it response' to events such as the bombings. Even the most proactive industry approach would not bring quick results and consequently, although I know it might not sound too optimistic, the best is to wait for people to naturally forget and again select the beautiful island for their holidays or the venue for their events. The only thing I recommend to my colleagues is to continue sending out positive messages and remind people that although business levels might have been low recently this does not mean the island is deserted. For instance not everyone knows that over the recent festivities season hotels were running at occupancies in the range of more than 80%. And, I expect to see reassuring signs of recovery in May/June when the island traditionally enjoys the best level of arrivals. Much has been said of Bali tourismís inability to finance and manage a professional promotional campaign. Without a dedicated and professional destination marketing authority can Bali realistically expect to get its share of the international travel market and the meeting and conferences market?

Riva: Will this ongoing issue ever be resolved? I don't know. It will take a really strong approach from the private sector in order to get the Department of Tourism to allocate funds to concerted initiatives instead of isolated campaigns which not only do not generate the expected results but also can have detrimental impacts on the image of the island.

Until the day a tourism body is able to put together an international standard campaign, the industry can only succeed with isolated combined efforts or alliances. A united approach will always face challenges based on different interests. Whatís your candid appraisal of Baliís security at the moment and what, if anything, remains to be done to regain the traveling publicís trust?

Riva: When looking at security from a tourism angle I would say the current levels are as good as they can be. If Bali was a minor island in the Pacific then it will be easier to say "come to the island where security is guaranteed." The reality is different and like any other major city or resort there will always be a soft spot where an attack could take place. But if the comparison is made with the security level at another major resort destination in South East Asia where I recently attended a tradeshow, then I can definitely say Bali is safe. Any parting word's of wisdom for the many friends you leave behind in Bali?

Riva: Despite the challenges the island has experienced over the past years, my time in Bali has been the most rewarding and the colleagues and partners I have had the privilege to work with know how much I believe in the destination and how passionate I continue to be about the island and its potential.

They will know that although I have left, my ambassadorship will continue to be strong. And as a father, I can assure you it will take a longtime before getting forgiveness from my three daughters who for the months to come will continue to ask their daddy why we have left such a beautiful place and lifestyle. And I have yet to convince them with any of my answers.

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