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Dialogue: PATA Chapter Chairman Al Purwa

We Catch Up with Al Purwa Owner of KCB Tours and the very busy Chairman of the Bali and Nusa Tenggara Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Chapter.


During his visit to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Mart in Kuala Lumpur, September 27-30, 2005, had a chance to meet with well-known Bali travel professional Al Purwa, the owner of KCB Tours and current Chairman of the Bali and Nusa Tenggara Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Chapter.

Please note: Al Purwa's comments predate the latest Bali bombing of October 1, 2005.

Al Purwa The Interview Pak Al, here we are in Kuala Lumpur attending PATA Mart. As the Chairman of the Bali and NTT PATA Chapter, what's your impression of the Mart generally and Bali's marketing presence at this event?

Purwa: I have been to many Travel Marts, but I always envy our friends from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Their Governments and private sectors seems to know what they want and what they're aiming for; they really work hard together in showing their identity and combined market strength.

I remember when the bird flu first hit China and Hong Kong, the Government of Hong Kong paid every cents of the costs of re-creating the brand identity of Hong Kong with the badly wounded and bleeding private sectors joining in that effort. As a result, only a few months later Hong Kong was back on their feet and enjoying high occupancies. Similarly, our competing Asian destination always showcase their destinations in a very consistent way - be it at ATF (ASEAN Travel Fair), or PATA Mart, WTM London (World Travel Mart) or ASTA conference (American Association of Travel Agents) - they really demonstrate their ability to work together.

Meanwhile. Bali's marketing can only be seen as a scattered effort by individual members of its private sector; with many Bali companies even hiding away in their International corporate booths. Nonetheless, this year's PATA Mart is very busy with more than 380 sellers and 400 buyers. Because of this, most of our Bali participants appear quite happy with their schedules of fully booked pre-appointments. Attending a travel fair can be quite expensive for many travel operators. How important is it for Bali to make a strong showing at the many travel fairs held in various locations around the world?

Purwa: There is a saying that goes: if you want to catch big fish you have to use large bait. We need people in our government who understand the travel business. We just don't need anyone who thinks that Bali is already famous and tourists will come anyway and that Bali has everything - we have to stop thinking that way! We have to work hard to compete with all our neighbors and we have to know our product and set our targets. Our neighbors spend huge amounts of money to create good infra-structure, good systems of road and transportations, sophisticated airports, and operate lots of plane that fly to these airports - all combining to make it easy for the tourists to spend their money in their countries.

Perhaps most importantly, our neighbors are prepared to spend their funds on promotional activities - making strong appearances and representations at major travel shows, like PATA Mart. From your perspective and with current record arrival numbers, has Bali's travel industry regained all the momentum lost since the 2002 Bali bombing?

Purwa: Everyone in Bali is smiling broadly, happy that August's arrivals for 2005 are better than last August. But, at the same time, we hear that the government tax revenues are still lagging behind the revenue collected prior to the 2002 bombing. This would seem to prove that while current arrival numbers are strong, current visitors have less quality in terms of their length of stay and average level of spending.

Remember, Bali is small, and if we keep on only targeting on numbers' growth, one day we will not be able to sustain our quality of life derived from tourism. Perhaps, now is the time to say "sorry we are fully booked" to the travelers and agents who keep squeezing our rates and start welcoming those prepared to pay more. What, in your opinion, are the most urgent tasks that must be done by the Bali Tourism Board and the Government to promote tourism?

Purwa: Most urgently we need to make large, prominent and consistent promotions while at the same time working seriously to improve Bali's infra-structure. Current traffic jams are killing tourism and security must be improved. Cleanliness must become a high priority and the total madness of uncontrolled development without concept should be stopped right away. Steps must also be taken to stop business conducted by unlicensed /illegal persons or companies. We need to be more transparent in how we do things and demonstrate true law enforcement. Everyone should work hand-in-hand toward the same goals; goals that should be clearly and transparently established together. As a Balinese and a leader in local tourism, are there any issues that concern you and keep you awake at night?

Purwa: Safety and the over-crowdedness. It is so easy for the terrorist to attack many parts of Bali and, when that happens again, it will take longer time for Bali to recover.

As regards traffic, I can no longer make firm appointments, like I used to.

In the past, there was only one acceptable reason for being late: "upacara adat" (editor: traditional ceremonies). Now, it is very common to blame traffic jams.

Tourism is a very delicate business dealing with people who are constantly on the move and want to have new, positive experiences every day. The needs and wants of modern tourism keep constantly changing.

I also feel uneasy that we do not see any strong leaders in Bali able to say and do the right thing, people who can be followed by everyone. Everyone seems just to be talking with no one doing anything concrete. How can Bali best protect and preserve its cultural identity?

Purwa: The only way to preserve Bali's cultural identity is to make the Balinese respect their own culture. The young people must learn how to pray again, and the parents must have time to teach their children to pray. We have many people come from other parts of Indonesia coming to Bali, and many of them have become prominent business people. They have become successful because they never lost any time spent on so much social and cultural activities that consumer the time of the Balinese. This fact can sometimes create jealousy. The newcomers to Bali have to be asked to learn and respect Balinese Culture. If they also want to live in Bali and cannot dedicate the spent required for the social and cultural activities, then they must be prepared to spend a part of their income to preserve and protect Balinese cultural activities.

After all, Bali's tourism exists because of Bali's Culture!