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February 17, 2011

Bali: too much of a good thing?

Kuta Beach, Bali
BUILD-UP: Tourists flock to Bali's Kuta Beach, while in the background construction cranes work on a massive beachfront development.

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"Paradise lost?" the headline asked again last week as the press reported on attempts by the Bali provincial government to limit development.
There are indeed cranes on the Bali skyline again as the island's tourism economy, so used to a boom-and-bust cycle that follows the fortunes of the surrounding economies, booms again.
On the tourism numbers alone, it's now twice as popular as it was a decade ago, when a terrorist campaign targeting Western tourists depleted the number of holidaymakers. This year about 600,000 Australians - the largest group of visitors on the island by nationality - are heading there.
The question is: will they all fit? With 2.5 million tourists overall expected this year, some are beginning to think they won't, especially now that narrow roads originally designed to connect small villages are choked with traffic for much of most days.
"Tourists come to Bali to relax," Bali Hotels Association secretary-general Perry Markus was quoted as saying last week. "I can imagine how frustrated they will be if they end up getting stuck in horrendous traffic jams like in Jakarta."
Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika last month took the unprecedented step of banning new hotel development in the island's three busiest areas, including the beach strips of Kuta and Sanur, the exclusive beachfront resort district of Nusa Dua and the rice-terraced hills around Ubud.
"There is a lot of hotel accommodation already built in these three regencies (local council districts)," the head of the Bali government's Investment Board, Nyoman Suwirya Patra, said. "So we need to spread out the building of accommodation to other regencies."
It remains to be seen how effective the moratorium will be, especially as there are many voices of dissent in Badung regency in the south, claiming that local businesses will be penalised.
As an added incentive to shift tourism facilities to less-developed areas, there are plans for a second international airport in Bali's north and a new cruise ship terminal in the east.
However, some of the comments by the BHA's Perry Markus seem to me to be quite odd. Markus believes the island's appeal as a "quality destination" is under pressure because of the recent success of low-cost chains like Tune Hotels, which operates like budget airlines, promising "five-star beds at one-star prices".
"We don't want Bali to be viewed as a cheap destination because this island is too small. A cheap image will attract too many backpackers and result in overcrowding," Markus said.
He said 80 per cent of Bali's hotel rooms were priced between $A50 ($NZ65) and $A2000 ($NZ2618) a night, but Tune charges just $A15 ($NZ20).
It is clean and comfortable but lacks the aesthetic charm Bali is famous for. At Tune, customers are charged extra if they want "non-essentials" such as towels, soap or air-conditioning.
"We don't need any more budget hotels like Tune which will stir unhealthy competition and drive our poor local guest houses out of business," Markus said.
"We want to project Bali as a quality destination so we can attract quality tourists who stay longer on the island and spend more." 
As I've written about before, I really do think it's time Indonesia started implementing a national strategy of spreading tourism around the archipelago. The obvious areas are the eastern provinces (Nusa Tenggara), including the pretty and relatively empty island of Lombok next to Bali, and Sulawesi (the Celebes), including the historic sea port of Ujung Pandang (Makassar).
In the meantime, Bali can't be a "quality destination" until its rancid water supply stops poisoning the tourists. This is also a national infrastructure issue which is the responsibility of the government in Jakarta.
If you've been to Bali recently, what is your report card on the state of the island's facilities? If you're going to Bali in the near future, are you confident your expectations will be met?
- Sydney Morning Herald

 Happy New year 2011
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