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Category: Economy

Blocked Roads, Anyone?

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other delicacies

Bali, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017

 

BALI’S singular contributions to Chaos Theory are well known. They fuel debate, sometimes, but mostly they result only in huffing and puffing that gets no one anywhere, or else create fractious ennui, quite often of the terminal variety.

It’s when experiments such as those with traffic management that have been tried previously – and have been found to fail –are wheeled out again with all the pomp and circumstance that such diversions demand, that it gets, well … funny.

So it is with Kuta’s old-but-now-it’s-new-again one-way traffic mismanagement system, the brainchild of the new police chief. We haven’t yet dared venture into the melee ourselves, though one day we’ll have to, we suppose, but friends who have report that the chaos is far from theoretical.

Say Cheese!

IT’S been a breezy in Bali lately. It’s La Niña, who seems determined this time around to make her presence fully felt. As well as being breezy, it’s been very wet. It usually rains in the wet season, this being its climatic purpose, though in a range of variables that, in these days of Google-supplied expertise, seem to worry the punters something dreadful.

The Cage, of course, is leaking. Bowls of all sorts and sizes have been conscripted to the cause of at least trying to contain the drip-water until the regular hurried tip-outs down the sink regain the liquid volume capacity for the process to continue. Some people claim their houses do not leak. We’d like to believe them, just for the fun of it.

It’s the breezy bit of it that has caught our attention, though.

We had a lovely weekend guest at The Cage, who bitterly complained that as she sat on the edge of the swimming pool teasing the water with her toes and eating cheese on toast, a nasty gust of wind had blown away the fromage du jour from her breakfast, even though she had a tight grip on the multigrain thing it lay upon. She’s from Melbourne, so it’s surprising that fickle weather strikes her as odd.

The growing potholes on the Goat Track Highway to our place are a concern, however, even if it’s torrential rain and raging runoff rather that’s to blame, rather than the overly zealous zephyrs that have been whipping around. Even chucked-in pebbles covered imperfectly by a thin skin of concrete are not usually affected by wind shear at surface level.

Chump Day

IT’S not often that the Oddzone makes the news anywhere else, unless it’s because of bushfires or reports of man-eating wombats. But Donald Chump helped ping the radar recently. He’s sticking resolutely to his serially twittered promises to shake up everything from Mexican imports to the timetable for Armageddon. To the astonishment of many around the world, he is still supported in this grand strategy by a large number of Americans.

It was one of those avoidable train-wreck things. A one-hour comfy chat with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (later identified in the dysfunctional White House’s phone call schedule as the President of Australia and in another reference named Trunbull) ended abruptly after 25 minutes. The Donald, holding forth in the Oval Office and in the presence of his national security adviser (retired gung-ho Marine Corps general Mike Flynn) and his hapless media man, Sean Spicer, who were taking notes, went ape-shit.

That Australia is about the staunchest ally the US has anywhere, and certainly in the critically important Asian region, must have gone out of his mind. Or perhaps it had never managed to break into it.

Then again, perhaps he had been advised that with Australia, American leaders can administer beatings on the basis that these will continue until morale improves, in the certain knowledge that Australia’s own brand of foreigner funk means any protests will either be non-existent or of the pipsqueak variety.

In this rare incidence of immaterial cause and effect, Chump can fulminate about foreigners to domestic affect without any overly embarrassing whickering becoming evident at the other end of the megaphone.

The cause of this episode of egregious trumpeting (and twittering) was the deal Australia did with President Obama under which – as a further sorry example of its lack of moral fibre – Australia would ship people from its detention camps for unauthorised migrants in Nauru and PNG to the USA. Trump characterised this a dumb deal. We’re about as close to agreeing with him, on that, as we’re ever likely to be on anything much at all: though the deal was not so much dumb as disgraceful.

But the trumpet voluntary from the Oval Office gave everyone a much-needed giggle too. We particularly liked The Washington Post’s take on the affray. Dana Millbank, in a lovely opinion piece, gets to the nub of America’s historical difficulties with its fractious ally in the South-West Pacific. He writes: “Vegemite? Mel Gibson? Dual-flush toilets? They totally had it coming Down Under.”

And that’s not all. He went on to note this, complete with Trump-style all-caps for play school emphasis: “There are a lot of bad dudes Down Under, and for years, Australia has been sending them to America. They sent third-rate Air Supply, which has NO TALENT. ‘Lost in Love’? Pathetic. And Mel Gibson — a dope! Olivia Newton-John: highly overrated — and that ‘Grease’ reunion she’s planning will be a TOTAL EMBARRASSMENT. Crocodile Dundee is a true lowlife, and Nemo is a dumb clownfish. SAD!”

Ridicule is such a useful corrective.

Pushing It

THE desire of the established area-based taxi cartels to protect their turf might be understandable – especially in the case of Bali where economic trickle-down effects are very limited – but maintaining them does not make market sense.

Neither does it take into account advances in communications technology. A taxi that can be summoned by instant message, and go directly to a GPS-located address, has value for customers who wish to use such services.

There’s a lot of “tolak” that goes on here. Tolak Reklamasi, which relates to the unacceptability of the notion that rich people can get even richer by building over large parts of Benoa Bay, is sensible. In contrast, Tolak Uber and Grab (the non-cartel taxi options) is protectionism, plain and simple, and does the consumer no good at all.

It’s entirely possible to argue that taxi companies should be regulated – they should – and be properly audited and pay their share of tax. So should Uber and Grab, and any other operators that might emerge in the future. But regulation is not something at which the authorities here are spectacularly brilliant.

In that scenario, an area arrangement makes some kind of sense, as long as it allows for new technology out-of-area contractors also to work. The airport taxi cartel is a particularly difficult option for travellers. Since only airport taxis can operate out of the airport, they can (absent enforced regulation) charge whatever they like. They do.

The recent reported affray at the airport, targeting Uber and Grab and allegedly involving air force police, was disgraceful. Airport security is vital – and the presence of the military in the form of air force police personnel is sensible in that context – but that’s where military involvement should end.

Cartel protection, harassing drivers, and making them do punishment push-ups at the roadside is an appalling tactic. Indonesia has civilian authorities that make, apply and enforce the law.

HectorR

Hector writes a monthly diary in the Bali Advertiser. The next appears on Mar. 1.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Aug. 19, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Let’s Make a Mess of It

We do try very hard – really we do – to find little political or bureaucratic triumphs to lighten the load of otherwise observing serial dysfunction and give us something positive to write about that has emerged from government. But it’s hard. Since Australian beef imports were slashed – someone had heard the stirring beat of that nationalist drum again and had convinced himself that Indonesia Raya was self-sufficient in that variety of essential protein – local prices have shot up by 180 percent because (and we won’t even bother pausing for effect) supplies were now short. The government has said it will import 50,000 tons of Australian beef to meet the shortfall, or perhaps to fill in the gap in its mind.

We’ll move along to the next little upset apple cart. This is the invidious effect of steep rises in tariff charges on imported wine and spirits, which (to no one’s surprise except the sentient) have caused a conniption in the drinks industry – it’s worth rather more than a snip at US$300 million (Rp Something plus far too many zeroes) – especially coming on top of this year’s ban on beer sales through mini markets. From Jul. 23, importers have been paying 90 percent of import consignment value on wine and 150 percent on spirits. The industry says this will lead to retail price rises of between 15-100 percent. It fears, somewhat naturally, that this may have a negative impact on sales.

It is true of course that observant Muslims are forbidden alcohol – it is haram – and that premium wines and spirits are only ever so rarely found in your average Indonesian household whose occupants, if they have jobs, earn derisory wages that are flat out putting nasi bungkus on the meja. Cheap hooch is widely available and – as we have just seen again in Bali in a separate criminally stupid or criminal profiteering case – is highly likely to have been adulterated with methanol or other dangerous substances. Most Indonesians are unlikely to be affected by prohibition-style, speakeasy-level prices for imported drinks they will never consume.

But there is another aspect to the alcohol issue that should worry a great many people. It is that the drive to suppress consumption is coming from the hardline Islamist push in the legislature and the government. Consuming alcohol is not prohibited for many people who profess Indonesia’s other religious faiths. It is a commodity that the tourism sector must provide to meet the expectations of their markets. There are plenty of other places for tourists – or rich Indonesian elites – to go if they want a drink at a reasonable price with their holiday dinners, after all. This factor is critical to Bali, where tourism is the single most important economic driver. It’s quite clear that Islamic legislators in Jakarta – a world city in which alcohol fuels the metropolitan entertainment sector – have given little thought for the deeper ramifications of their campaign.

Drinking is not compulsory. It is elective behaviour of the sort that sensible, secular states permit (properly regulated) on the basis that people should be free to choose to indulge in lawful, pleasurable activities and ought to be facilitated in these pursuits. Too often when fanatics get into the act all sorts of things are proscribed because it is suspected that somewhere, someone might be having a good time.

Island Faces

There’s a lovely photographic exhibition at Lestari Art Space in J. Drupadi, Seminyak, called The Island’s Faces and featuring an eclectic range of local dials. The photographs are the work of Ayu Swarie. They have been acclaimed by many as emblematic of our island and won deserved applause from the crowd at the opening on Aug. 7.

The Diary could not be present on opening night because of a prior engagement (see below). But the exhibition runs through to mid-September and we’re not going to miss it. The works are for sale.

Beach Style

A good friend, filmmaker and photographer Adithio Noviello, and his bride Adita Dwi Putrianti chose a sunset beach setting for their wedding on Aug. 7. It was a lovely occasion, especially because it was a celebrated with Muslim rites in front of a gathering whose own religious beliefs encompassed Islam, Balinese Hindu, Buddhist, Judaism, Christianity of various sects, and a goodly component of those whose religious practice exists only as an entry on their ID cards. It seemed a delightful allegory of the real world, the one that exists away from Those Who Like to Bother You.

It’s always a pleasure to hear Arabic spoken or sung at religious occasions and, in the old days before loudspeakers took over from the solitary muezzin who intoned from the minaret, the call to prayer was a mellifluous affair. It’s also rather nice to hear Qur’anic Arabic that’s not being spoken or sung by a native speaker of the language. In that respect, it shares qualities with the Latin one used to hear in Christian churches: unintelligible to most and quaintly pronounced.

We said this, at the party at the Holiday Inn Baruna Bali at Tuban, to a fellow guest whose provenance is Jewish, and added that when such occasions bless the ear it is for us very much like listening to Hebrew. Shalom Aliechem.

Noviello recently produced a short film on the under-threat Bali Dog – it was launched at a function at the Mercure Bali in Sanur the week before his wedding – and auctioned the centerpiece work from his brilliant exhibition of still photographs in aid of BAWA, the Bali Animal Welfare Association. One of his other photographs now resides at The Cage, courtesy of the charge-card facility at the show.

From Vulcan’s Lair

Our favourite local blogger, Vyt Karazija, had a lovely take on Mt Raung’s lengthy effluence in nearby East Java that has lately caused distress to airports, airlines, and especially airline passengers who have no idea of the dangerous properties of volcanic dust except that it must be someone else’s fault. That episode had abated at the time of writing – though one should never wholly trust Vulcan not to return to bother us again shortly – but it gave all sorts of people an opportunity to fulminate.

Karazija fulminates quietly, in his own erudite way. He noted on his Facebook one day that his newly cleaned motorbike had acquired a dull sheen of dust – debu in the local parlance – and he became quite lyrical about this. He wrote that it was wondrous that minute particles of Inner Earth had been expelled by pyrotechnic flux and had floated free for the first time in four billion years, seeing the Sun and all the other wonders available above the crust. It was pleasing, he noted, that some of these microscopic and newly free entities had chosen to grace his motorbike.

This is sort of poetic prose that can bring a tear to eye of an old diarist, someone from the dark side who has seen the English language mangled by many for whom it is their native tongue and who unaccountably have been paid to write in that language. We did have a briefly lachrymose moment. But Karazija, while he is light with the virtual equivalent of a pen, is also a practical man. The rare dust that had blessed his bike, he finally decided, might actually be debu from the rampant construction and deconstruction, licensed or otherwise, that takes place round the clock in South Bali.

Then again, we ourselves mused, it could merely have been particulate-laden smog, that other constant in the atmosphere above the murdered landscape of Denpasar, Badung and parts of Gianyar and Tababan. We daily see that dreadful pall – beneficially, this is from a distance – from The Cage in our still mainly wooded and freshly aired bit of the Bukit.

See You in Sanur

The tenth Sanur Festival will be held from Aug. 26-30. Its theme is “Decade”, which is accurate at least, if not a natural crowd-puller of a slogan. Along with the usual mix of such events, including kite flying, a food festival, fun runs (on Aug.23), beach cleanups, turtle hatchling releases, a photographic competition and other entertainments, this year’s festival includes nightly showings of films from the 2015 Bali International Film Festival, which itself takes place from Sep. 24-30. For those more actively inclined there are Village cycling tours; and the Sanur Open golf tournament will be held at Bali Beach golf course on Aug. 29-30.

Sanur Festival chairman Ida Bagus Gede Sidharta Putra makes a good point. “If we do not have a flagship tourism activity, Bali tourism will stagnate and slowly it could be abandoned by tourists.”

Festival details are on the festival website.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 27, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Comedy of Horrors

The head of animal husbandry in Badung regency, Made Badra, is reported (by the Jawa Pos newspaper) to have come up with a brilliantly cunning Baldrick-style plan to solve the rabies problem in Bali. These guys must be watching bootleg DVDs of the entire series of The Black Adder, the way they go on. Pak Made in particular seems to have been chatting with the Wise Woman. She was the witch who advised Lord Blackadder, who had a little difficulty with two men and a queen, to kill everyone.

No, that’s unfair. He apparently would like to keep 200,000 dogs in Bali as long as they’re vaccinated and sterilized, and kept as pets, in order to protect the Bali Dog. It’s possible that he was misreported as to the precise detail of his proposal. As head of animal husbandry he would presumably know that sterilized dogs have difficulty reproducing. Given the average lifespan of a dog, on the reported basis of his plan he’d be looking at eliminating the Bali Dog as a distinct species within about 15 years.

The crux of the problem with rabies control in Bali is that no one is in control. There’s not enough vaccine in stock because not enough is being bought. District control programs are administered – though that hardly seems the word – by officials who don’t know how many dogs there are but nonetheless would like to kill lots of them. The health bureaucracy cannot vaccinate people who need anti-rabies shots after they’ve been bitten by village dogs that no one can say have been vaccinated. Look up shemozzle in the dictionary. It’s all the rage here.

On top of this, the Badung animal husbandry chief has a shot at animal welfare organizations that, he says, really should do more than just shout and scream if they want to help. We know of one such organization that right from the start of the crisis in 2008 actually did rather a lot more than just run around like a headless chook. It reduced rabies in dogs by a huge quantum in the first stage of a vaccination campaign it organized with international support. Then it ran into a poisonous thicket of provincial posturing and little local jealousies – these were not in Badung regency; that needs to be noted – and has since been monstrously hindered by inventive licensing and permit restrictions in doing its day job, let alone the government’s.

We say again: world best practice shows that controlling rabies and eventually eliminating it as a threat to human and animal populations is achieved by vaccinating (and regularly re-vaccinating) domestic and informally owned dogs to create an effective vaccinated screen. Dogs are territorial and will see off interlopers and hence keep potentially rabid animals away.

What part of “Oh I see” do the authorities here not understand?

Two Gems

The Diary dined in excellent company at the new Jemme Restaurant in Jl. Petitenget at Kerobokan on May 9, its opening night after significant renovations. It was busy and at times a little noisy – but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little chatter and clatter – and the food hit the spot. It’s a gem. There’s a very decent wine list and a menu that suits all tastes. Our advice: Do drop in.

Another gem was along for the occasion. Eva Scolaro, Perth jazz singer and now Bali resident, sang for everyone’s supper. She’s doing regular spots there. And we hear she’ll be performing at the next DIVA do, on Jun. 12 at Slippery Stone at Kerobokan.

In an entirely different style, we looked in at Hog Wild’s soft opening in Jl. Batu Belig on May 14. It’s the former Naughty Nuri’s and the charity outfit SoleMen had a benefit there. The grub’s good. So was Ceremco, the Dutch illusionist who has now been reading minds in Bali for two years.

We’d seen him not long before at the Europe on Screen film festival at Pan Pacific Nirvana. He specializes in two different genres – kids’ magic (which was certainly working magically for the kids at Hog Wild) and hypnosis, psychological magic and self-help for adults.

Chaos Theory: Proved

We’ve had a lovely taste of the chaos the European and post-Ramadan high season will cause on Bali’s roads this year. The long weekend recently brought South Bali’s major arterial roads to a standstill. It’s reported that on the Friday evening of the long weekend it was taking up to two hours to make the trip from Seminyak to Kuta. That’s 6.4 kilometres via Sunset Road. Traffic was stalled for kilometres on the Ngurah Rai Bypass and all the connecting roads were jammed.

Vehicle traffic from Java via the Ketapang-Gilimanuk ferry link rose by 37 percent. More than 3500 vehicles entered Bali from Gilimanuk on the Thursday before the long weekend alone. Since the Denpasar-Gilimanuk road would be flat out properly handling 10 percent of its regular traffic and alternatives to this – a toll road option – are still in the department of pretty pictures, nothing’s going to change on that arterial route soon.

In South Bali, the traffic situation at peak times has returned to the jam-packed inch-forward profile for which it was famous before the Nusa Dua-Benoa toll road was built. Given rock-bottom airfares aimed at domestic tourists and the Chinese invasion (they drive around in large parties in Leviathan-sized charabancs, as is their wont) the future looks bleak.

It’s a Squeeze

A telling illustration of the bind Bali has got itself into over tourism and infrastructure comes to light in new figures released by the statistics bureau that show a disastrous 2011-2015 decline in room occupancy rates of classified hotels (the ones with stars basically).

They’re worth running your eye over even if you’re not directly involved in the hotel sector, since they demonstrate with stark clarity why retail outlets and other services that depend on high throughput of human customers are also struggling.

In January 2011 the occupancy rate was 64.66 percent. In 2012 it was 62.01; in 2013, it fell to 57.57, then to 52.85 in 2014 and 47.23 in 2015. For the month of February the rates were 62.23 (2011); 55.52 (2012); 58.05 (2013); 52.76 (2014); and 47.59 (2015). Similarly sharp falls in occupancy rates occurred in all but two months of each year between 2011 and 2015. March in particular stands out. In Mar. 2011 the occupancy rate was 63.16 percent. In Mar. 2015 it was 43.24 percent. August and September are the only months in the series in which the 2015 occupancy rates are higher than they were in 2011. (The 2014 and 2015 figures are provisional.)

Under Bali’s unplanned planning rules, new hotels are still being built and opened. Existing hotels are discounting room rates to attract custom, or are being squeezed by the online bookings sector. We hear a suggestion that most hotels even at the top star-rated level are effectively getting only Rp300,000 a night per room. If this is so – it’s unlikely any hotel general manager is going to be saying so publicly – then the situation is unsustainable in the long term without massive new numbers of visitors.

Eat Up!

Penelope Williams, whose unique Bali Asli restaurant is at Gelumpang, near Amlapura in un-crowded East Bali, and who featured as a foodie at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, is on the program at the first Ubud Food Festival on Jun. 5-7. She is giving a cooking demonstration on Jun. 7.

Williams, who was formerly executive chef at Alila Manggis, has a stellar CV and came to Bali from 12 years in Sydney, Australia, says her aim is to promote Balinese cuisine and culture without exploiting it or Bali’s people. The menu offers authentic Balinese food using a traditional Balinese style kitchen. They cook on wood-fired, mud brick stoves, which Williams says allows the real flavours of Bali to shine. Most of Bali Asli’s ingredients are either grown in its own or a neighbour’s garden or bought from the local market. There’s a cooking school too.

She has a refreshingly open approach to life and its vagaries. On the Bali Asli website there’s this lovely entry: “On Trip Advisor …. Among the few critics is an expat who has lived in Bali for several years. She describes the restaurant as a place for naive tourists and her advice is to get far less expensive but good Balinese food at a local warung.”

Well, we’re another expat who has lived in Bali for several years and eats at local warungs. And Bali Asli is on our non-naive-tourist must-visit list.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary is published in the Bali Advertiser print and online editions http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Apr. 1, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

In a Word: Tosh

Proposals lately aired that would further limit the number of foreign workers in Indonesia are sensible. As a medium- to long-term strategy they are surely free of any downside. Though that would be in the context of the further development of the nascent ASEAN free market where, as in the European Community, state borders and indeed national citizenship would become progressively less important.

But most foreign workers in Indonesia are not “white”, as economic ministers looking for nationalistic headlines like to suggest. That old pejorative is code for “former colonial oppressors and their running dogs”. Indonesians are not disadvantaged because 70 years of independence has failed to free them from the fiscal drag of the colonial era. Instead, they are not as advantaged as they could be, because their governments have failed for seven decades to build an open, educated society and legislate for the competitive economy that would then have developed.

Nationalistic claptrap offers nothing of value. It produces only deflective, self-serving political rhetoric.  The economy does not run on rhetoric. It runs on money. If Indonesians desire progress, which they sensibly do, the ex-colonial cringe is a tiresome mindset they should have sent to the junkyard long ago.

A real economic imperative facing Indonesia is foreign investment. The national investment board, announcing recently that a “one-stop-shop” would soon open (good luck with all the sub-national impediments, chaps) said it estimated US$23 billion in planned investment was forgone in the five years 2007-2012 because regulatory and administrative holdups, and endemic corruption, chased it away.

So far as employment goes, if there are Indonesian workers who can do the job, no one in their right mind would recruit anyone else (in Indonesia). But what’s needed is an effective middle economy in the huge space between local global-list enterprises and the small-to-micro business sector (both of which work well).

That requires not only coordinated policies that actually work and are implemented, including foreign investment, but also a cultural change: No more “passing” people as qualified because not to do so would be culturally embarrassing (or invidious to the interests of and continued presence in Indonesia of the examiner); a real work ethic inspired from the top (that’s where the bosses work harder than those they employ); an education system that produces young people with well rounded global skills; and a health system that keeps people healthy and therefore productive.

It also requires effective public infrastructure, both physical and human. And last, though certainly not least, it needs government and business environments that are notable for minimal corruption and sound judicial decisions rather than the reverse of this.

“Expats” (a ridiculous word) have a limited role in Indonesia’s efforts to build a truly balanced economy. Foreign workers should be regulated by legislation, but in the context of an environment in which private profit (universally and fairly taxed as a revenue growth stream) is recognized and supported as a generator of wider wealth. Now there’s another vacant space that could and should be filled with objective, forward-thinking debate.

Take a Break

When the diary in Ubud, which is often because it’s a fun place to be – it’s got everything, after all, from spirit festivals to sex therapy (either amateur or professional) – we’re often to be found at Warung Semesta in Jl Monkey Forest. It has very nice coffee, a decent café-style menu, and reliable WiFi. The latter is essential these days since you carry your office with you in your laptop.

It’s attached to the Tegal Sari resort, which specializes in the Japanese tourist market but not exclusively so. As a drop-in spot for shopped-out shoppers, Semesta’s hard to beat, too, as it’s located just round the corner from where Jl Hanoman meets Jl Raya Pengosetan and segues into Jl Monkey Forest. (Hanoman is named after Hanuman, monkey hero of the Ramayana.)

The establishment is very near the monkey forest itself. A little troupe of macaques can sometimes be seen foraging in the mango trees outside or performing trapeze-style on the PLN wires.

Doris, Mate!

Dining über-casual the other night at Warung In-Salt on Jl Pantai Balangan at Ungasan turned into a better experience than ever. Tony Eltherington, aka Doris Day for reasons that are still not fully explained but who is the diary’s favourite mariner for all sorts of reasons his modest approach to achievement forbids him to boast or boost, was also there and in fine style.

He was shore-based at the time but told us he was shortly back off to his floating home, a nicely fitted out former West Australian crayfish boat, for its next tour of duty to the Mentawai Islands and beyond with surfing-diving-fishing fans in tow.

He gave us one of his new corporate T-shirts as a memento. It’s a fetching black and has a logo which – from a distance – resembles that of a particularly sought-after brand of motorbike that goes vroom in an expensively classy way.

Bombast Away!

The risk Bali faces of slipping behind in the race to win market share in the highly competitive international tourism market has lately come to the fore as a topic of official conversation. That this has been primarily in a constructive sense is a significant benefit. Applied analysis beats boring bombast any time, as an indicator of which of the paths thus far less travelled should in fact be chosen.

State reform minister Yuddy Christiano recently said that despite Bali’s popularity there were still areas that required improvement, among them measures to avoid the slightest risk of not providing the best service. That’s a fair point. It depends on the view of the tourists concerned what service can be defined as best. But most people want things that work efficiently and on schedule.

Over to Bali tourism head Anak Agung Gede Putra Yuniarta, who points out that the key to maintaining visitor levels and providing a better experience in spite of rising costs lies in creativity and services.

His list of must-do’s includes creating tour packages that show visitors more of Bali and encourage repeat business, enough electricity, road infrastructure that gets tourists to and from their ooh and aah places without giving them a headache or a conniption, and improving the environment of tourism sites.

He also notes that domestic tourists these days can visit Singapore and Malaysia and spend less doing so than if they came to Bali.

In this context, efforts to build up the nascent Indian tourism trade would be boosted by direct flights to Bali and free visas. Figures for January and February this year show 17,400 Indian tourists visited, up 47.5% on the same months last year.

It seems Indian tourists are impressed with the artistry and customs of Balinese Hinduism and yoga is a modern cultural connection. There was a conference in Nusa Dua on Mar. 26-28 from which further Indian media promotion was expected.

Free visas are certainly an issue. The government last year expanded the list of countries for which VOA charges would be removed and this year announced a further expansion, to 40 countries. Australia was on the first list but then wasn’t, the reason given being that it did not offer a reciprocal privilege to Indonesian travellers. Yes, well, perhaps someone was finding a plausible excuse after removing his foot from his mouth.

Now a court has ruled that free visas must be reciprocal or that they are otherwise illegal (apparently this is the intent of existing legislation). This is a further embarrassment for tourism minister tourism minister Arief Yahya. A significant number of countries on Jakarta’s fanfare of free visa felicities do not offer reciprocity. The dogs have been eating his homework yet again.

That’s the Spirit

The Bali Spirit Festival got under way in Ubud yesterday (Mar. 31) and runs until Sunday (Apr. 5). It’s in its eighth year. Like other song-and-dance shows on the calendar it may face problems in the future as the demographic of Bali tourism changes and Bali – inevitably – with this. But that shouldn’t worry inspirer-guru of the Global Celebration of Yoga, Dance & Music Meghan Pappenheim this year, or the happy-clapping collective which organizers said was expected to number 6000 and come from more than 50 countries.

There’s all the usual material at the festival’s two venues, one for the day-long workshops and the Agung Rai Museum of Art Open Stage for nightly world music concerts. Both venues also feature markets focusing on health and wellness through organic and healthy foods, crafts, clothing and merchandise.

But there was one item listed in an electronic promo that came our way about which we would be less than ecstatic if it was anything to do with us. It was something called Estatic Dance. Perhaps you stand rooted to the spot and fiddle with your cursor?

Hector tweets @scratchings. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz