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Dialogue: Ian McKie of Bali Hilton International

Ending a 4-Year Assignment in Bali, Ian E. McKie Offers Some Parting Thoughts on the State of the Local Tourism Industry.

(12/24/2005) 

As reported on balidiscovery.com, [ Ian McKie Bids Farewell to Bali Hilton], the popular Director of Operations of the 538-room Hotel in the Nusa Dua Complex has accepted a new job as the General Manager of the Regal Airport Hotel in Hong Kong.

Busy preparing his hotel for the current holiday seasons during his final working days in Bali, Ian took time out to reminisce on his Bali interlude and the nature of the current difficulties confronted by the Island.

The Interview: Ian E. McKie of the Bali Hilton International

balidiscovery.com: Ian, after nearly 4 years in Bali, how does it feel to be moving on?

McKie: Each time I leave a place I have mixed emotions. On the one hand there is a sense of eager anticipation that comes with a new assignment and new challenges. On the other hand Bali has been a good home to our family for the last four and a half years. There are many things we will miss. I am sure we will be back.

balidiscovery.com: Having worked in Bali during the periods surrounding both the 2002 bombing and the latest incident, how serious do you rate the current crisis?

McKie: Very serious. The fact that there was not the immediate exodus that we encountered after the 2002 bombing lulled everyone into a false sense of security and gave people the opportunity to make light of the extent of the problem.. In practice, the business has drained away slowly and has left us with a major challenge. Many people are commenting on the fact that the traveler is becoming inured to the terrorist threat given that there have been bombs in London, Madrid, Egypt, Amman etc. There is some truth in this but we can't escape the fact that Bali has had two bombs in three years. Equally some of these other countries have more robust economies not so heavily dependant on one industry for their livelihood in the way that Bali is.

balidiscovery.com: How does it compare with the situation in 2002?

McKie: There are differences and similarities. As I mentioned, the business has drained away rather than stampeding to the exits. On a positive level, I believe the industry was better prepared this time and the various associations, BTB, BHA, PHRI (Editors Note: Bali Tourism Board, Bali Hotel Association, Bali Hotel & Restaurant Association) are working more closely to co-ordinate the recovery effort.

However, I do detect an increasing level of frustration at the lack of Government action. The mood seems a little different this time. After 2002 there was a determination to put Bali back on the map. This manifested itself in a whole host of support Bali initiatives. Many of these were well intentioned but not particularly well thought out and planned, and certainly not coordinated. But there was a sense of purpose and at times almost a carnival like atmosphere with all the various goings on. I think there is probably as much determination this time around; it just feels a little more somber and practical.

balidiscovery.com: How do you rate the longer term prospects for Bali?

McKie: I have no doubt that Bali will recover. It has made recovery something of a trademark. However, the speed and extent of the recovery will depend on a number of factors. Security is clearly an issue. Persuading the airlines to reinstate routes will be critical. The demand may return before the ability to access the destination does. The degree to which the demand can be supplied by the seat capacity will be an essential part of the recovery.

It will also be necessary to persuade industry partners to keep faith with the destination. For example, I was talking just the other day to an agent who up to now has only done business to Bali. He was telling me that they could no longer afford to put all their eggs in one basket and they were being forced to expand their operations to other destinations. This means their focus and effort which up to now had been entirely on bringing business to Bali will be dissipated. Yes Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Philippines are destinations they are looking at!

Let's not forget that we were scarcely out of the last crisis. It was only recently that business had really started to boom again. It is hard for businesses to survive, let alone thrive in this boom and bust cycle. Look at Air Paradise. Sadly they could not survive.

The recent UNWTO conference provided some useful food for thought and allows a blue print for Bali to be prepared and pushed through. Bali will recover. It may simply take time.

balidiscovery.com: What can Bali do?

McKie: The lack of intent from the Government is transparent. The other day someone described Bali to me as a heavyweight boxer past its prime. However, to continue the analogy, there is no reason that this boxer canít be licked back into shape. In terms of natural raw talent it's way ahead of its competitors. It's simply that the competitors realize that in this competitive era a boxer needs a manager, a trainer, a promoter, a physio, etc. so that it's in peak condition for the fight. The Government is not going to do this for Bali. I believe Bali will have to take its destiny in its own hands and do it for itself. There are enough capable people here to make it happen.