Now that Christmas is over and School Leavers know their final results, the traditional exodus of Australians heading again to Bali is beginning. Aussie accents will be omnipresent throughout January and early February – and, following a less-than-good year for Bali's tourism, the inflow of Australian Dollars will hopefully launch 2002 more positively.
But only in March will it be evident if as many Australians headed north as in 2001 or in earlier years and if, indeed, beautiful Bali is still a favorite holiday destination "Down Under" in an increasingly competitive travel arena.
Based on what I have read in both the trade and consumer media throughout 2001, on remarks made by the sellers and the buyers of travel on both sides of Australia, on comments made on radio talkback shows in Western Australia, plus my own observations over the last few years - I have serious doubts.
Based also on the balanced, informative and realistic coverage that I have read in 'Bali Update' in recent months, I do have good reason for such concerns.
For those of us directly involved in the industry, key words like planning, sustainability and capacity ring a loud bell – usually with a negative tone - in the context of the growth of Bali as a tourism destination. However, when one hears comments like, "too crowded," "terrible traffic," "not clean," "disorganised" and "no longer pleasant" from those who now have many choices of travel destinations that are also close to Australia, then I suggest that the warning bells are ringing very loudly for Bali.
That old adage about for whom the bell tolls – and tolls loudly – apply more and more to Bali. A similar adage of Scottish origin about there being none so blind as those who will not see, sadly appears to be the reality amongst those who could – indeed should – take steps to ensure the long-term viability of Bali as a tourism destination.
'Bali Update' has, in its role as a responsible publication, carried a number of very pertinent and even alarming messages about the decline of Bali's tourism during 2001 – and most of these from people with strong Bali connections, such as Minister Ardika, Mr. I Gde Wiratha and Dr. Nyoman Erawan. On my regular visits to Jakarta this year, I have seen similar concerns expressed in articles in leading national newspapers.
Based on this media coverage alone and even before this particular Perth-based industry commentator adds his words of caution, it can be stated with conviction that there is, in every way, a major and an increasingly serious Tourism Carrying Capacity (issue) facing Bali – and the word is, as they say, well and truly out.
It perhaps is more acceptable if one begins a New Year with words that are kinder and gentler. Certainly, it appears that the majority of the decision-makers would appear to prefer that – just as they would go to considerable lengths to maintain the pretence that all is well and that the proverbial Bali Golden Goose will continue to lay enough eggs for all to feed on for many, many years to come.
Not kind and certainly not gentle in word or in supporting thought, but please let me add my warning message to the increasing number that too many are failing to heed:
There urgently needs to be a realistic audit and review of all key logistics pertaining to Bali's carrying capacity for tourism, plus the introduction of a genuine commitment at all levels to actively address and make necessary changes, including legislation.
If this does not happen within the next 18 to 24 months, I must join the increasing number in forecasting an even more rapid decline in the true quality of the Bali Visitor Experience and the inevitable and extremely negative impact on the Balinese people. It is they who are the ultimate beneficiaries, or the ultimate victims, of the appalling neglect and myopia of those who, as this decline has set in, have sat and watched and have profited.
Ask not for whom the Decline Bells toll, Bali – they toll for you, unless major changes take place, very, very soon.
Graham Hornel is CEO of the International Tourism Consultancy - The Questbay Group, a former PATA Staff Director, and the founding Secretary General of the Indian Ocean Tourism Organisation (IOTO).
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