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Editorial: The Moral Imperative for Tourists

A Recent Trip to Bali by Australia’s Minister for Health and Ageing Prompted Tony Abbott to Examine Why Australians May Have a Patriotic Duty to Visit Bali.

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Australian Parliamentarian and Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, recently visited Bali on a private holiday prompting him to submit the following op-ed piece to the The Age Melbourne originally published on July 19, 2006.

The Moral Imperative for Tourists

Tony Abbott, MP (Australia), Minister for Health & Ageing

So far, no country has escaped from Third World status on the basis of foreign aid. Every country that has moved out of comparative poverty (such as Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) and every region that has become a particular country's economic locomotive (such as Mumbai or Shanghai) has done so on the basis of trade, not aid.

This stands to reason because buying from someone makes him a partner while giving to someone is more likely to make him a supplicant than a friend. Aid is important, especially in times of trouble such as after the Asian tsunami of 2004, but not nearly as important as a market economy to the foundation of lasting wealth and self-respect.

This reflection was prompted by a recent trip to Bali, which tourism has lifted from being one of the poorest parts of Indonesia to being one of the most prosperous parts. It was gratifying to think that indulging in a five-star lifestyle at a fraction of what it would cost in Australia and enjoying some remarkably good value shopping might be helping to reduce world poverty and equalize the gap between rich and poor. Tourists have never been accorded much moral standing but it seems they are just as necessary as aid workers and might be of more long-term benefit for the world's poorest countries.

A recent report by the Australian Co-operative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism noted that tourism accounts for 36 per cent of trade in commercial services in advanced economies but 66 per cent of such trade in developing countries. Tourism is the only service industry where the Third World as a whole has a positive balance of trade with the First World: a $6 billion surplus in 1980 rising to nearly $9 billion in 1998. In addition, international tourism in developing countries is increasing by 9.5 per cent a year compared to 4.6 per cent worldwide.

Unsurprisingly, the report warns that tourism is too important to be left to the private sector and worries about the effect of foreign tourism on local culture. Still, it concedes that all forms of modernisation change indigenous cultures and notes tourism is a growing and significant part of the economy in all but one of the 12 countries that are home to 80 per cent of the world's poor. Tourism, it concludes, "appears to be one of the few economic sectors able to guide a number of developing countries to higher levels of prosperity and for some to leave behind their least-developed country status".

If economic deprivation breeds resentment and tourism is an important means to economic development, it's no wonder terrorist groups have targeted tourism in countries such as Egypt and Indonesia. Targeting places such as Bali's Sari nightclub not only punishes the decadent infidel but helps to wreck the local economy in places which fail to conform to any zealot's blueprint. Last year's bombings in Bali, targeting families in cafes, were presumably designed to demonstrate that no one is safe and were a form of economic warfare against the people there.

The Federal Government rightly warns people about the dangers of travel in countries such as Indonesia, and people should be sensible about the potential risks involved. In 2003, in the aftermath of the 2002 bombing at Kuta, tourist arrivals in Bali were almost 40 per cent down on 2001. Even so, by 2004 tourist numbers had exceeded the previous peak. Australian tourists had increased by 10 per cent on the previous record. There are no official figures yet for this year but one hotel says September bookings are back to last year's level.

In any event, Australians' nervousness about security is in contrast to fondness for something different and enthusiasm for a good deal.

People who have no desire to court trouble or to make political statements can be conscious of the importance of Indonesia to Australia and reluctant to have their choices dictated to them. The most culturally oblivious tourist is still adding to our collective awareness of our vast neighbour as well as building the Indonesian economy, which is only a quarter the size of Australia's with 10 times the population.

Then there's the importance of preserving a Muslim country which is relatively easygoing, culturally pluralist and democratic. Taking a holiday in Indonesia is riskier than going to the Gold Coast, but may ultimately be quite a patriotic thing to do.

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