Following the developing story surrounding rumored changes in Indonesia's tourist visa policy, those of us in the tourism industry have a growing sense that significant changes in how visas are issued are looming inevitably on the horizon.
Frankly, our policy-makers could hardly display a worse sense of timing. Indonesia continues to suffer the fall-out from the tagic events of 9-11 and the accompanying baggage of being unjustly portrayed in some quarters as terrorist-friendly and unsafe for tourism. Gradually, the situation is improving as Bali Update and others try to tell the other side of the story and as increasing numbers of visitors return home to tell their friends that Indonesia - and particularly Bali - are absolutely safe and very welcoming to American's and other nationals. Still, such "good will" circulated only by word-of-mouth takes time, especially in the face of massive advertising budgets from competing markets such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand who, unlike their neighbor to the south, are not content to wait for tourists to slowly rediscover the natural charms of their destinations.
The Why and Wherefore
Against this background, the why and wherefore of current moves to restrict Indonesia's tourist visa policy defies comprehension.
Is it to raise badly needed government revenues through the introduction of the fee?
If that is the motivation, the reasoning is as flawed as it is fallacious. The results of a survey carried out by the Bali Chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) 2 years ago, submitted to the Government when the change in visa policy was first suggested, showed that arrivals may decrease as much as 33% if the proposed visa fee is introduced. Using the Government's own figures on average tourist spend of US$ 1,000 per person, the potential downside of the new policy could be more than $1.7 billion dollars lost in desperately needed foreign exchange. If necessary, we could extrapolate those figures further, showing the number of jobs that will be lost as the national tourism industry stagnate furthers om the wake of the visa fee, but such an exercise becomes much too macabre to even contemplate.
Is the fee to stop the flow of illegal migrants using Indonesia as a stepping stone to third countries?
This argument, opined in some quarters, remains unconvincing. Some authorities have claimed that the proposed visa fee will somehow deter refuges and asylum seekers. We ask: How so? Aren't policies already in place that allow immigration authorities to ask all visitors to demonstrate financial capability and their intent to depart Indonesia after their holiday visit? How will charging a fee at the gateway alter a system where desperate people will pay ten of thousands of dollars to be smuggled in unseaworthy vessels into and out of Indonesia? How will the introduction of an additional fee somehow correct the venality of that minority group of officials determined to prey on the hapless and desperate coming to our shores
If Charge We Must, Then Include it In the Ticket Price, Please
If, as it seems, national policy makers are intent on implementing a visa charge, we implore them to at least have the foresight to include those charges in the ticket price. Under no circumstances should such charges be levied upon arrival at one of Indonesia's gateways. The reasons for including any visa fee in the ticket cost are both numerous and obvious.
It's transparent and accountable.
Much of the current amounts paid for fiskal fees and airport service charges in Indonesia are unaccounted for, evaporating on the journey from the payee to the state coffers. The proposed visa fee, included in the airline ticket would become totally transparent and accountable with checks delivered each month to the Department of Finance by each of the international carriers serving the Country.
Money and State Security Don't Mix.
It's only good management practice to keep money out of the equation when State's security is on the line. Let's keep our overworked immigration officers free of the distracting smell, sight, and feel of hard cold cash when they're busy deciding whether or not a potential visitor meets the stated security requirements for the issuance of a tourist visa. This is both good sense and common sense.
It's more efficient.
The very last thing tourist visitors need after standing in long lines to obtain their visa stamp is yet another line or an added bureacratic step of settling a visa fee before they are allowed to enter the Country. By including the amount in the already purchased ticket price, the process becomes both more efficient and consistent with best practice internationally. On the most practical level, heated arguments with visitors over paying the new visa fee are side stepped completely when the visa fee has already been addressed at the time of ticket purchase.
The Indonesian language has a saying that goes Jatuh, tertimpa tangga or, quite literally, to have the misfortune to not only fall ,but to also strike one's head on the stairs in the process. If, as it seems, a visa charge is inevitable, let's not make matters worse. Let's put the fee in the ticket price and keep the money off the table.
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