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How Not to Promote Tourism

Editorial: Why We Think Western Australian Tourism Official Simon Ambrose Needs a New Job and a Holiday in Bali.

(1/24/2011) Western Australian Margaret River Tourism authorities have well and truly put their foot in it, branding Bali as a holiday rival destination that is "dirty, overpriced and a terrorist threat." The comments, reported in [Perth Now], were made by Augusta-Margaret River Tourism Bureau chief executive, Simon Ambrose, who broke the cardinal rule of tourism marketing: promote your own destination but never at the expense of a competing destination.

Ambrose used the occasion of the report of a recent outbreak of Legionnaires disease tentatively traced to a specific Bali hotel, to launch a generalized attack on Bali, claiming the island is disease ridden and generally unsafe. In Ambrose's misguided approach to tourism promotion, for every shortcoming he found in Bali he sees Western Australia a having a complete and ready solution. In full verbal flight, the man charged with promoting Margaret River must have fancied he was going for Bali's jugular when he reminded: "Major issues such as terrorism and health are not as relevant, if at all, when holidaying at home."

Simon Ambrose's comments show him to be a largely witless individual, an abysmally poor choice as a tourism ambassador for any destination and arguably the strongest reason not to visit Western Australia if he is in any way representative of folks from that corner of the world.

But most damning is the patent stupidity of any tourism official who is oblivious to the cooperative and interdependent character of the international tourism industry. Lost on Ambrose, also, is the fact that the record number of weekly flights now flying between Bali and Perth carry tourist both to and from Western Australia. The booming international tourist trade in which Bali and Perth are respectively recording record numbers of Australian and Indonesian visitors is part of a complex and mutually interdependent international trade.

Let's be perfectly clear here: Our disdain for Simon Ambrose does not extend to Western Australia, a world-class tourist destination offering outstanding attractions, with wine and culinary opportunities second to none. Only two hours flight away by jet, many Indonesian residents and tourist visitors abandon paradise for holidays in Western Australia and, in so doing, help sustain the thriving regional tourism industry coexisting between those two locales.

Is there a greater threat of terrorism in traveling to Bali rather than Australia? The informed traveler knows that terrorism is an international threat, sadly liable to happen anywhere at anytime.

How about the threat of disease in traveling to Bali or Australia? A search of the Internet will find diseases such as dengue and legionnaires are health threats in both Indonesia and Australia. Additional searches will also uncover specific health threats, past and present, for travelers to Australia such as Ross River virus, Murray River encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis.

And that is exactly the point we would like to make to Simon Ambrose. If everyone followed his example, involving themselves in denigrating and self-destructive mud matches against competing tourism destinations we'll all end up losers. There's plenty of negative facts to go round that can easily be dug up and launched to make another destination look bad in some sort of desperate and misguided attempt to make your own destination look better. Does this sort of tactic work? The evidence is fairly conclusive showing such strategies only succeed in persuading people to abandon travel generally, choosing instead to stay "safe" at home.

Those of us here in Bali feel that in the aftermath of Simon Ambrose's comments, there are a number of points that need to be urgently addressed:

Simon Ambrose owes Bali a sincere and open apology.

Western Australian tourism officials must seriously address their strategies and tactics. A clarification is urgently needed so Bali can determine if Ambrose's comments are only the first salvo in a "new" and negative promotional campaign for Western Australia. If, as we hope, this is not the case, then we suggest it is not too extreme for Western Australia to demonstrate its sincerity and good will by abruptly showing Simon Ambrose the door. If Ambrose's comments reflect the quality of the man chosen to promote Margaret River, we anticipate his absence won't be felt.

And, as we hope, should Mr. Ambrose find himself suddenly unemployed, Bali stands ready to prove there's no hard feelings and assist in his rehabilitation by hosting him to a complimentary stay on our paradise island. We're sure that such a holiday will help mellow him and leave him abundantly better informed on the real situation in Bali.