It is the time of the year again that the local newspapers dedicate important front page coverage to reports about tourist arrivals on Bali. The ballpark figure is that nowadays the Island of the Gods receives around 3 million foreign tourists and at least an equal number of domestic visitors per year. The exact official figures as they are collated by the BPS Government Statistics Office give detailed information about the nationality of tourists and are usually published with a delay of one month; they provide us with the amount of foreign travelers that have entered Bali directly, either by air or by sea.
The person who has had his finger on the pulse of incoming tourism better than anyone else is our esteemed colleague Jack Daniels of Bali Discovery Tours. Mid December he predicted that based on the statistics published in October, arrivals for all of 2013 would total more than 3.2 million foreign visitors and the amount for both foreign and domestic, would exceed 7.25 million. That would mean that the official target of 3.18 million has been exceeded.
It remains to be seen if this really has been the case but no matter what, in the decade since the 2002 and 2005 bombing tragedies it has become the curious habit of the Bali Tourism Board officials to set a “target” for the following year. The Board neither announces expectations nor predictions but sees it as a duty to specify a target, usually of ten percent growth in arrival numbers. Targets are something that one tries to achieve. They are a goal, an objective and the implication is that it is possible to follow policies and engage in promotional activities that bring about that result.
Alas, the budgets for promotional activities have never been proportional to the objectives. In 2013 the provincial administration allocated only IDR 1.2 billion (US$105,000) for tourism promotion, but it is a fact that the steady growth in arrivals in the recent years is at the highest level in Bali’s tourism history. It is clear that the Bali brand is worldwide so well-established that the island has been coasting on its fabulous reputation.
Unfortunately cracks are now appearing in that reputation. Reports in foreign newspapers increasingly do mention that visitors found a dirty beach, polluted waters and traffic jams in Kuta. We have seen how over the Christmas to New Year peak season that area was saturated with traffic, mostly carrying domestic visitors, and the important question is indeed whether never-ending growth is desirable. We vividly remember how way back in 2002 the former Indonesian Minister of Tourism, I Gede Ardika, already started a discussion about the ‘carrying capacity’ of the island, warning that ultimately Bali’s insatiable hunger for ever-increasing tourist numbers was not sustainable.
On December 27 the Bali Daily reported that the Bali Tourism Agency had set a new target for the coming year and aimed to attract 3.5 million foreign tourists in 2014, another 10 percent increase. We ourselves did not see a reason to cheer.
However we were very pleasantly surprised when we heard that in the end common sense seems to prevail and as so often it was Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika who injected a healthy degree of realism into the issue. As Tempo Magazine reported on January 2 he has declared during the provincial government’s year-end conference on Tuesday: “We don’t need to set a high target. If foreign tourists reach 3 million and with the domestic tourists we come to a total of 7 million we will have reached our goal”.
At Top Indonesia we fully agree. The focus should switch from quantity to quality.