The March issue of Now Bali carried the following interview with www.balidiscovery.com's President Director.
The Interview: Jack Daniels
John Daniels (or Jack as he is affectionately known) is a very well know figure in Bali Tourism circles. His "Bali Update" is read across the globe by travel professionals and people who just want to stay in touch with their beloved Bali. Here Jack reveal a little about his history, his work and his motivation.
Q: How long have you been in Bali and what brought you here. Am I right in thinking this was the "Call of the Sea"?
A:I first came to Bali as a university student in 1973. I've lived continuously in Indonesia since early 1977. I opened an office in Bali in the early 1980s with the launch of the Spice Island Cruises, and moved here from Jakarta on a full time basis in 1994.
Q: What happened to the "Bali Dancer", as I recall this was an marvelous experience quite unique in the world?
A: Over the course of a 15 year stint spent in developing cruising, I was involved in the operation of 4 ships. The last was the “Oceanic Odyssey” - a five star vessel that ceased operations in late 1999. That was a difficult time in Indonesia’s history with tidal changes taking place on the political scene. The short version of why we stopped operations was a tragic lack of clarity in how customs laws were going to be applied to our business at the time. A sudden request from a regional official for a tax payment that we were certain did not apply and the subsequent failure to get a single written response to a letter written to at least three ministries of the government seeking clarification spelled the end of the venture. This lack of a response from the Central Government in the face of an attractive purchase offer to purchase our ship left the owner's little choice but to sell our ship and close the company. Despite all this, I remain a firm believer in Indonesia's essential viability as a cruise center.
Q: Now cruising to Komodo is mostly by "the traditional fleet" of converted Phinisi, is this still an experience you would recommend?
A: Definitely. Komodo and the rest of Indonesia remain one of the best travel experiences available anywhere in the world today.
Q: Moving on to your next career- your third I believe since you started as an hotelier – tell us about Bali Discovery Tours. When did you start this? What areas do you concentrate on?
A: Only three? Let's see – I've been a radio announcer, worked as bartender, labored as a mortician's assistant while attending school, taught University, had speaking roles in at least 6 or 7 Indonesian films, managed sales for an U.S. airline in two countries, managed a large office building, ran a cruise company and now co-manage Bali Discovery Tours.
Bali Discovery Tours was started by Arie Sukirno and I after the closure of Spice Island Cruises. We are a destination management company that operates several successful e-commerce sites; publish a yearly catalog for Bali's meeting and conference industry; produce an award-winning weekly newsletter, provide destination management services to overseas wholesalers; handle port arrangements for international cruise ships; provide tourism consultancy services and provide comprehensives services to the meeting, incentive, conference and exhibition sector.
Q: Now let's get to the real focus of our discussion "Bali Update". How did this come about? What made you start this?
A: More than 10 years ago, while still running Spice Island Cruises and serving as the Chairman of the Bali Chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), I started sending emails to friends providing a local view of what was happening in Indonesia. CNN and other media tended to over-dramatize Indonesian news, claiming the entire country was covered in haze and showing old archive films of riots and civil unrest. I merely offered a foil to journalist who didn't get the story right and made sure that people knew Bali remained an enjoyable holiday destination. Local hotels and travel agents started quoting my coverage to their clients, people began asking to be included on the mailing list and now, 10 years later, we've got more than 19,000 subscribers, have been labeled as "Bali's Truth Ministry" by TIME magazine and won the PATA Gold Award as the Asia-Pacific's Best tourism newsletter in 2007. Much of the world's travel media now regularly quote our coverage of tourism news in Indonesia.
Q: Now you have 19,000 readers worldwide, are these all travel agents and travel professionals or there just some people who love staying in touch with Bali?
A: Anyone can subscribe. We’ve got foreign leaders, Indonesian cabinet members, journalists, students, average travelers and subscribers hailing from almost every country in the world on our distribution list which continues to grow.
Q: The question on everyone's lips is "how do you get such quick, high level access to information? How do you manage to get your sources?"
A:We surf over 40 major websites every day and I read 6 Indonesian papers in search of news that impacts Bali tourism. With the exception of an occasional editorial, most of our articles are recaps and/or free translations of news that appears in other media which we invariably cite in our attribution.
Q: What about writing? Do you write it yourself or this a team effort? It's a lot of work!
A: Even press releases get a rewrite. I write almost every article that appears in Bali Update which, at last count, now exceeds more that 5,000 separate pieces of news. It would be nice to achieve that level of financial success that would allow us to hire a "real" writer and allow me my first week off in over ten years. Any volunteers?
Q: And finance? How does Bali Update pay for itself? Do you live off advertising or sponsorship?
A: To date it has been paid for entirely by Bali Discovery Tours. The stories are all posted on our www.balidiscovery.com website which averages between 300,000-400,000 visitors each month. Many of those visitors also choose to book Bali holidays from the site which helps to pay the bills. In January 2009 we have also opened the chance for others to advertise travel products on our site.
Q: You are often an outspoken critic of the government. Have you ever got into trouble?
A: I reject the depiction as a government critic. I am fanatically in love with Bali tourism and Indonesia tourism as a whole. Over the years, I have received the highest awards for tourism service bestowed by both the National and the Provincial government.
Perhaps some of our news coverage has an "edge." But if you read these articles carefully you will invariably notice that we are merely re-presenting news that has already appeared in the Indonesian language press. On that level, we're no more controversial than your morning newspaper.
Occasionally, I do write editorials clearly labeled as such. In those instances, I honestly strive to offer constructive comments, generated from the pen of someone who loves this Country while offering comments and insights intended to aid the national tourism industry. Like my well known defense of things Indonesian, my commentary can be "spirited" but are never intended to be destructive.
Q: What's the worst story you have had to report?
A: You have to tell the truth, albeit from a local perspective. If you fail to report bombings, terrorist attacks, bird flu, and rabies – no matter how "negative" they may appear, you lose your legitimacy as a news source and any future right to tell the Balinese side of the story. So, yes, we report bombings as an introduction to what is being done by the Balinese to relieve the suffering of the victims and by the police to catch the terrorists. We report when bird flu is confirmed in Bali and then monitor official efforts to control that disease. As soon as the recent rabies epidemic was confirmed we told the world while also publishing stories on the extent of the problem and what the government is doing to protect residents and visitors.
Let me illustrate this point by saying that last year a potentially fatal epidemic was found in certain parts of China. The government there reacted by trying to censor the news and hide the problem. Once the news broke on the Internet and international media, the Chinese government then decided they wished to comment on the outbreak only to discover that their statements were ignored by the international media who no longer viewed the government as a legitimate source of information on the story. By reporting all the news we preserve Bali's right to tell its side of the story.
Q: And the best?
A:There's been thousands. International awards won by Bali. Young Indonesian’s who are appointed to key management roles in the tourism industry. The recent victory of Made Mangku Pastika as Governor and his strong commitment to Bali's environment. Garuda recording a profit. New products that are provide jobs to the Balinese. Community projects that make a real difference in the life of the Balinese. Simple stories that share insights into Balinese ceremonies and cultural events.
Q: And what for the future? This takes a huge commitment, do you still have the time and the energy?
A: So far so good. Volunteers, prepared to work for peanuts, are welcome to apply.
Q: You have been honored many times for your work, which meant the most to you?
A: My Adikarya Pariwisata Award form the Republic and Karyakarana Pariwisata Award from the Governor of Bali – both recognizing contributions to developing national and provincial tourism were genuinely appreciated. The regular private emails offering words of encouragement and appreciation from Indonesians and Balinese are truly treasured as they demonstrate my efforts on behalf of my adopted home do not go unnoticed.
Q: You obviously love Bali, what do you recommend to our readers that they see and do. What are your personal favorites in Bali?
A: Are you prepared to make this into a 12 part interview? Please visit our website at www.balidiscovery.com – it’s where the folks at Bali Discovery express their love of Bali on a daily basis.
Q: Lastly on behalf of your many fans out there: well done and keep up the good work! Thanks from the many whom have benefited from your work.
A: Thank you.
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