Monday, December 28, 2015

Bali tourism stays strong amid safety concerns

Despite the relatively stable performance of the tourist industry in Bali throughout this year, the local authorities have vowed to improve security on the popular resort island to restore public trust following a series of incidents, including extortions targeting foreign tourists and a recent deadly brawl in Kerobokan Prison.

The struggle to maintain the popularity of the island had to start early this year, as a series of campaigns to boycott Bali as a destination for tourists emerged after the Indonesian government sent Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan and a dozen other drug convicts, including foreigners of multiple nationalities, to die in front of firing squads in two separate rounds of executions in January and April.

In Australia, whose citizens have consistently made up the largest group of tourists in Bali over the years, a social media campaign against Bali tourism emerged before the executions and lasted for a while afterwards, but disappeared by mid-year.

Bali, however, had to deal with more bad publicity following revelations from local law enforcement institutions that some of their personnel had been involved in different cases of extorting money from visiting foreign nationals.

In September, after weeks of investigation, the Bali Police officially dismissed Comr. Ida Bagus Dedy Januartha from his position as Kuta Police chief, making him the highest-ranking officer among 12 police personnel who had received initial punishment for their alleged involvement in extortion involving a group of Australian tourists earlier this year.

In the same month, two immigration officers were temporarily suspended for allegedly extorting US$2,200 from six Chinese tourists at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Despite the shaky start, the latest data show that 3.36 million foreign tourists visited Bali from January to October this year, a 7.62 percent increase from the 3.12 million foreign nationals who visited the island during the same period last year.

The data also show that 822,127, some 25 percent, of the foreign tourists visiting Bali this year were Australians, slightly higher than the 812,723 Australians recorded setting foot on the island during the first 10 months of last year.

“Australians remain the largest group of tourists on the island this year,” Bali Tourism Agency head AA Gede Yuniartha Putra said recently.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Sunday, Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika said that his administration would work with law enforcement institutions to carry out all efforts necessary to eradicate criminal activities, including extortion targeting foreign tourists, in the province.

“It [extortion] must not happen again. We should carry out self-examination while working to fix [the problem]. Next year, Bali has to be free from these [extortion] cases,” the retired three-star police general said.

Bali Police chief Insp. Gen. Sugeng Priyanto said he supported the governor’s view.

Referring to a recent deadly brawl involving members of two local gangs in Kerobokan Prison, Sugeng also pointed out the importance of implementing a solid and reliable correctional system as a sign to the public that Bali is a safe place to visit.

“Next year, we need to review the prison management so that such incidents will not happen again,”
Sugeng said.

On Dec. 17, a clash involving members of two groups, Laskar Bali and Baladika, broke out in Kerobokan, leaving two inmates dead and two others injured. Several hours later, a further confrontation between members of the groups outside the prison on Jl. Teuku Umar in central Denpasar left another two people dead and three more injured.

Shortly after the clash, Bali Police officers conducted a raid in the prison, during which they uncovered hundreds of weapons, including replica firearms, spears, swords and daggers. Several packages of crystal methamphetamine were also seized during the raid.

The chairman of the Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association (PHRI) Bali, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, meanwhile predicted that the increasing number of terrorist attacks around the world this year, including a recent major attack in Paris, would start affecting Bali tourism next year.

At least 129 people died and 352 others were injured in a series of gun-and-suicide bombing attacks coordinated by a group inked to the Islamic State (IS) movement across Paris on Nov. 13.

“Many foreign tourists will likely decide to holiday in their home countries. It will be our challenge to have them come back [to Indonesia],” he said. (Jakarta Post)

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