Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Bali tourism community protests visa policy

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

More than 1,500 people employed in the tourism industry on Bali staged a street rally on Wednesday morning to protest against the looming enactment of the controversial visa policy.

The protesters, representing the Task Force of Bali Tourism Stakeholders (ASKB), said the policy would destroy the resort island's tourism industry, that had begun to recover from a number of crisis, most notably the deadly Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners, in October last year.

The government has sought to revoke the free visa on arrival facility previously enjoyed by the citizens of 48 countries, including Australia and Japan, which for decades have been the industry's biggest markets.

Under the new law visitors must pay US$35 for a visa when entering Indonesia and the maximum allowable stay has been slashed from 60 days to 30 days.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri signed a presidential decree on the new visa policy on March 31, which was expected to come into effect six months later.

However, the government is yet to announce when the policy will be implemented.

Sriyanto, who heads the justice and human rights office in Bali, said his office was yet to be informed by the government about the enactment of the policy.

The government also plans to grant free visas on arrival to nationals from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macao, Chile, Morocco, Turkey and Peru.

Bali Tourism Agency head I Gde Pitana said the imposition of the policy would reduce the number of foreign tourists by 30 percent.

"The revenue from the visa fee will not be able to cover the financial losses we suffer," said Pitana, who joined the rally.

The government says the visa is granted based on a reciprocity principle. However, the countries granted the free visas have yet to make a significant contribution to Indonesian tourism.

Another protester, Santika Hotel General Manager Made Suryawan, said the new policy was "not rational" in light of the struggling industry.

The protesters demanded the government review the policy.

Pitana said Bali Governor Dewa Made Beratha had informed Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra about the objections raised by stake holders in the industry.

"But he (Yusril) insisted on implementing the policy before 2004. I was informed that this policy will probably be implemented as early as this September," Pitana said.

He suggested the government grant free visas on arrival to countries that had supported the development of Indonesia's tourism industry, such as Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

The new policy cuts the length of stay from 60 days to 30 days.