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(12/31/2006) As a rule of thumb, travelers prefer direct flights to their holiday destinations. Barring that, their overwhelming preference is to arrive at their destination using only one airline with a minimum of intermediate stops. Similarly, on the short-to-medium haul routes from the increasingly import Asia-Pacific markets holidaymakers insist on the quickest and most-direct route to Bali, particularly when a stay on the island is for only for a very short 4 or 5 nights.
On a recent Bali "road show" to the People's Republic of China, led by the Chairman of the Bali Chapter of the Association of Tour and Travel Agents (ASITA), Al Purwa, the familiar explanation of "more air access" was the standard response when the Balinese delegation ask what could be done to tap into the huge pool of outbound travel from China. Also during the China trip, proven partners in developing Bali tourism, such as Singapore Airlines (SIA), renewed their pledge to support to Bali in helping to grow Bali-bound traffic via their world-wide network, including mainland China.
No Open Skies to Bali
Despite the ready solutions of Chinese tourists eager to visit Bali and an airline able to carry them, SIA's long-standing request for more seat capacity to Bali by increasing from three to four the number of daily connecting flights from Singapore has failed to gain the necessary approval from Indonesia's Department of Civil Aviation. The standard reason given for this refusal: Indonesia will not embrace an open skies policies, choosing (instead) to "protect the interest of their national carrier."
It's High Time for a Radical Rethink on Air Access to Bali
With Bali hotels and tourism operators desperate for business and a National Carrier more concerned with financial survival than fleet or route expansion, the current government position on air access to Bali makes very little sense. While everyone in Bali fervently prays that Garuda will one day successfully re-invent itself into becoming a major player in the international airline game, Bali can ill-afford the the luxury of waiting and staking its future economic viability on protecting the traffic rights for a national carrier that is both unlikely and unable to exercise its current reciprocal traffic rights so jealously protected by the Government.
With airlines, like SIA, standing in the wings ready to add more flights to Bali and undertake the additional promotion necessary to fill those seats, the wisest road ahead in the best interest of all tourism players is simple: grant those requests for more seats and, while we're at it, hire a brass band to welcome the sorely needed additional passengers at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport.
One of the first lessons taught in travel marketing is that each room unsold and every seat in a bus unfilled represent revenues and valuable foreign exchange forever lost. Those unrealized revenues are needed today in Bali to pay staffs, service loans and keep the next generation of Balinese in school.
The reasons for Garuda's current unhappy financial state are many and complex. Some of the Airline's woes – such as higher fuel costs and reduced demands from certain markets, are beyond its control. Other problems, however, such as artificially inflated debt burdens and inefficient management practice, are self-imposed and will take months, or even years, to resolve.
In the meantime, Bali has an urgent need to fill its hotel rooms and keep its tourism industry running at the highest possible levels. In order for this to happen, everything must be done to increase passenger flows from every conceiveable market, by every possible means.
Loosening the stranglehold on air traffic rights to Bali is in everyone's interest. Increasing passenger inflows from a variety of markets means Bali's economy will get back on even-keel sooner; creating a healthier, wider diversification of markets. At the same time, grabbing these growing markets now will preserve and develop a sustainable market share that might otherwise go to competing tourism destinations in the region. And, finally, because air traffic rights are regularly reviewed by participating governments, Indonesia will still have the future option at its disposal of adjusting its air access policies when an Indonesian carrier is better positioned to service those markets.