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Open Season on Head Hunters in Bali

Unethical Trade Practices Used in Serving Chinese Tourist Market to Bali Seen as Danger to Bali Tourism.

(6/4/2011) The practice known in Bali as "selling heads" or the selling of visiting tourists, predominantly Chinese, to the highest bidder is a long-standing, albeit highly disreputable tourism practice. And despite criticism from many quarters and much discussion in the local press, the practice continues in which Chinese tourist are "purchased" by unethical tour operators and then compelled to take tours, visit shops and eat at restaurants that pay large commissions to the shady tour operators.

Participants at a forum organized by Bisnis Bali warned that if the government does not take firm action to overcome this problem, the practice of "selling heads" is a time bomb that threatens Bali image as a leading global tourism destination. Says the paper, the provincial government of Bali should not hesitate to revoke the business licenses of companies and tour guides proven to be involved in this practice.

The forum held on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 ,was conducted by Bisnis Bali with support form the Bali Tourism Office, the Bali Liang Chinese tourism committee from the Association of Indonesian Tour Agencies (ASITA) and The Association of Indonesian Tourism – Bali (GIPI-Bali).

Selling Heads: A Vicious Cancer

In the discussions moderated by the chairman of GIPI-Bali, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, who was the former chairman of the Bali Tourism Board (BTB), he described the practice of "selling heads" as having progressed from merely being a headache to the point where it can now be described as a "vicious cancer." In Sudibya's view, if the problem is not dealt with finally and  soon it could prove fatal to Bali's tourism industry.

Sudibya said there were "10 or 11 problems" that need the urgent attention from all parties that are connected with the still undefined blue print of Bali tourism - such as the lack of synchronization between the central government, the province and the regional authorities;  the imbalance between supply and demand ; and a more equitable distribution of the benefits of tourism.

Warned Sudibya, "if these problems do not receive serious attention from the government and all elements of the tourism community, then Bali tourism will enter into a dark age."

The vice-chairman of ASITA, Ketut Ardana, describe the problem of "selling heads" in the Chinese market as having reached a worrying level. He said it is now necessary that a solution be found that eliminates the monopolization of the Chinese market. "Around 90 percent of Chinese tour guides are people form outside Bali. The Balinese must operate this market," said Ardana.

The head of the Bali Tourism Service (Kadiparda), Ida Bagus Kade Subisku, told the forum that it is difficult to combat the practice of "selling heads" in the Chinese market. The "selling head" practice has, in his estimation, existed in the market for more than 15 years. There are a number of steps underway to address this problem including moving against illegal tour companies, arresting unlicensed tour guides, and creating cooperative agreements between the ASITA Bali and the Mandarin speak division of the Bali Guide Association (DPD-HPI-Bali). Said Subisku, "We will take firm action against tourism operators who are involved in the buying and selling of under the legal steps afforded by the provincial law number 1 of 2010 and number 5 of 2008." He said no mercy would be given to those found to be destroying Bali's tourism reputation through the selling "selling of heads."

Hartono of the Bali Liang Committee claims the "selling of heads" has done great damage to Bali. He said the government must move resolutely to discourage those trying to "sell heads." Adding, "illegal travel agents and unlicensed guides must be sanctioned."