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Editorial: What's Going on in Jakarta?

Garuda Orient Holiday's Nick Deacock Wonders What's Really Behind the Government's Suggested US$ 50 Visa Fee.

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Bali Update readers and visitors from around the world continue to voice strong opinions about suggestions that the Government might impose a US$ 50 via fee.

Among them, Nick Deacock, Sydney-based Product Manager for Garuda Orient Holidays, a veteran travel professional in the business of promoting Bali tourism, wrote to share the following:

"One has to wonder at the hidden agenda of the Indonesian Government to once again raise the spectre of a US$ 50 Visa on Arrival policy. For the past 5 or 6 years, every time business begins to recover, a new hurdle is thrown up to hinder its recovery - whether it is smoke haze, civil disturbance, ethnic unrest, economic collapse or over-publicised crime and/or protests. Sprinkled throughout are uncontrollable events - airline disasters, inaccurate media reporting and, regrettably, the events of September 11 ... what we have seen is one disaster after another that, in spite of our best efforts, makes the life of a tourism merchant one of angst and frustration when trying to promote this beautiful and diverse archipelago.

In spite of these negative impacts, Garuda Orient Holidays, through an aggressive and sustained promotional and marketing campaign, has just recorded its best year in 18 years of selling wholesale travel arrangements to Indonesia. Our company recorded its highest passenger numbers and highest profit levels in 2001.

Encouraged by early indications, Garuda Orient Holidays has recently reviewed its targets, and increased them - from an initially aggressive 25% growth over the previous year's record levels - to a "conservative 40%" increase.

However these figures will prove unreachable should the Indonesian Government proceed with its stated intention to impose a US$ 50 (approximately A$ 100 per person) Visa on Arrival policy.

Already reeling from the high costs of leaving Australia (due to increased airfares and more than A$ 100 in departure taxes and fees), an additional US$ 50 to enter Indonesia may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back once and for all - especially for the average family who find Bali (in particular) an affordable destination (one that many Australians return to regularly, and, some, even several times a year) ... an extra A$ 400 for a family would result in a mass migration away from Bali towards "visa free" destinations like Fiji, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand - all of which are considered Bali major competitors by Garuda Orient Holidays.

In such circumstances, hotels and wholesalers are traditionally forced to negotiate reduced rates to keep prices attractive to the consumer. No one will be prepared to try and "cover" the US$ 50 visa fee, and prices will be blown out by this US$ 50 cost.

If the Indonesian Government wishes to plunder its tourist arrivals, surely there are other less destructive ways of doing so? Spending virtually nothing to support and promote tourism, this blatant grab for money would signal the death knell for one of Indonesia's most lucrative foreign income generating industries.

Better reporting and usage of the current 11% Government Tax levied on all tourism operations could result in more funds being made available to attract more tourism revenue. When the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced at ATF that they had budgeted over US$200 Million dollars for tourism promotion in 2003, Indonesia's paltry US$5 Million raised eyebrows, rather than hopes or expectations ...

To quote a line I use occasionally when negotiating hotel contracts - 'would you prefer a high room rate and low occupancy, or a moderate room rate and high occupancy?'. In reference to the proposed US$ 50 Visa on Arrival policy, Indonesia will see a rapid and continual reduction in the number of tourists prepared to pay this unreasonable visa fee.

Reference is made to the Government reviewing the "Visa Free" countries based on passenger arrivals, and lowering the number of "Visa Free" countries from 48 to a mere 9. What are the criteria for this review - ASEAN neighbours only? In reference to the Australian market, consideration must be given to a source market that is the most resilient (returning quickly after negative news events) and constant (passenger arrivals occur all year - rather than only during peak periods). Don't bite the hand that feeds you!

Certainly support ASEAN neighbours. But don't penalise markets that keep the Indonesian economy ticking along even during the softest periods."

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