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Editorial: Just How Green is Our Garden?

Local Legislators Claim More Pressing Public Needs than Funding Tourism Promotion. We Ask: Are There?

(9/5/2005) The official attitude in some quarters of Indonesia likens tourism to a crop of ripe mangoes that perennially comes forth on the vine. This line of thought maintains that all that remains to be done is to just sit back, harvest the abundant fruits and enjoy the tasty God-give bounty from an unending flow of tourists. This dangerously mistaken attitude is bred from the fact that, year after year - with minor exceptions, Indonesia has been able to reap a steadily increasing tourism harvest with little consideration for the care and cultivation of a "crop" that has become the second largest source of badly needed foreign exchange.

This laissez faire attitude was recently highlighted by Indonesia's central government allocating a scant Rp. 101 billion (approximately US$9.6 million) for the overseas promotion of tourism. This amount belies both the size and the potential of Indonesia's tourism industry, representing a humbling pittance in comparison to the massive and professionally managed promotion budgets of competing destinations, such as Malaysia (US$150 million), Singapore (US$60 million) and Thailand (US$100 million).

On a local legislative level, the picture is no brighter. In Bali, where the majority of the population derives their incomes from tourism, there is an equally appalling lack of appreciation for the need for effective tourism promotion. While on the one hand eager to reap the millions of dollars in taxation from the tourism sector, local parliamentarians are steadfast in their refusal to grow their tax revenues through the simple step of providing adequate money for tourism promotion, allocating only Rp. 4 billion (approximately US$380,000) for this purpose.

We're Falling Behind

Despite record-levels of foreign tourism arrivals to Bali in the current year, the inescapable fact is that Indonesia and Bali are losing market share in the face of well-funded professional tourism promotion by competing destinations. As reported on balidiscovery.com, [ Indonesia Losing its Market Share? ], we demonstrated that Indonesia, when compared against all member-states of ASEAN, only fares slightly better than Myanmar in terms of getting its share of the fast-growing tourism market to the region.

Arguments put forth by local and national parliamentarians that there are more pressing needs than tourism promotion for the limited funds at their disposal, make little sense while providing shocking witness to the myopic leadership style inflicted by some parliamentarians on the people of Indonesia. Tourism represents a valuable export; capable of both long term sustainability and producing well-paid jobs for millions of Indonesians. The wise use of public money in professionally managed tourism promotion promises a demonstrable quick return on investment in terms of the new jobs, foreign exchange and potential new investments in the tourism sector that will result. Current arguments from local and national lawmakers claiming insufficient funds for tourism promotion are akin to a woodsman refusing to gather more wood for his fire, complaining it's much too cold outside to momentarily leave the warmth of his dwindling fireplace.

Cold Days Ahead?

The lack of foresight by lawmakers who refuse to fund tourism promotion reflects the same come what may attitude of industry and political leaders who reject expending any time, money or energy on enhancing the tourism experience for Bali's visitors. Oblivious to issues of declining quality and the almost complete absence of any quality-assurance programs for visitors, these policymakers are blind to the disastrous effects just ahead for destinations, such as Bali, that consistently fail to meet the expectations of its foreign visitors.

In tourism terms, Bali's rich harvest of visitors which has served it so well in the past is under threat. Times and marketplaces have changed, demanding that in order to continue to enjoy the continued benefits of tourism there is an urgent need for both careful cultivation and fertilization of tourism's orchards.