Thu, 06 Mar 2003

Bali's image could get a boost from proper promotion

Rita A.Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Sanur, Bali

Picture this year's Academy Award nominee Nicole Kidman strolling hand in hand with actor Russel Crowe on the pristine white sand of Kuta Beach in Bali.

The image of these two big names, both Australian stars, walking along a Bali beach would certainly guarantee excellent international publicity, which could help restore Bali's shattered tourism industry in the aftermath of the Oct. 12 bombings.

In the past, top Australian model Elle MacPerson did extensive promotion for Indonesia through her exquisite poses for Garuda Indonesia advertising campaigns.

Australian artist Rebecca Gilling, who starred in the TV series Return to Eden in the late 1980s, also mesmerized the Indonesian public when she landed at Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta. Wide coverage by the Australian media of Gilling's visit to Indonesia was good publicity for Indonesia in Australia.

During a recent meeting of Indonesia-Australia tourism leaders in Sanur, John King, a tourism consultant from Gavin Anderson & Company, expressed the view that Bali and Indonesia badly needed extensive and effective promotion worldwide in an attempt to regain their credibility as tourist destinations.

"The idea of inviting celebrities like Nicole Kidman and other famous names to the island would turn the eyes of the international media to Bali," King said.

Another participant brought up the name of Paul Hogan, star of the Hollywood hit Crocodile Dundee. Hogan, who has helped several environmental projects in Bali, is well-known to Indonesians, Australians and the international media.

Likewise, Brig. Gen. Made Mangku Pastika, chief investigator into the Bali bombings, could be invited to Australia to give firsthand explanations on the progress of the Bali bombing investigation to the Australian public.

In the days after bombs blasted two bars in the famous Kuta entertainment center, some 11 kilometers south of the Bali provincial capital of Denpasar, thousands of holidaymakers, many of them from Australia, scrambled to get a flight out of Bali. Since then, Bali has been shunned by international tourists. Many of them have canceled their trips to Bali and other parts of Indonesia, mostly for security reasons.

Since Oct. 12, 2002, the island's tourism industry, including hospitality businesses, airlines, transportation operators and travel agencies, have been almost driven to the wall.

Travel warnings and advisories issued by foreign governments including Australia, the United States, some European countries and Japan, have decimated Bali's tourism industry, once the island's economic mainstay.

It is not only local travel and tourism players in Bali and Indonesia that have been badly affected by the bomb attacks, Australian tourism businesses have also suffered quite seriously as Bali was previously one of the favorite holiday destinations for Australian vacationers.

Australia has always been one of Bali's most important tourism markets, and accounted for approximately one in five visitors prior to October 2002. Spending by visitors from Australia in Bali amounted to approximately US$300 million a year. Australia accounted for approximately 20 percent of Bali's visitor numbers and was second behind Japan in terms of the largest source market.

In 2001 alone, Bali generated some $1.4 billion in foreign exchange earnings from the tourism sector, which represented a quarter of Indonesia's total foreign exchange earnings from tourism.

To revitalize the Bali market, a number of prominent figures from Australia's tourism and travel industry gathered in the Sanur resort to jointly discuss efforts with their Indonesian counterparts on how to effectively improve the reputation of Bali as a safe holiday destination for Australians in particular, and other international visitors in general.

Around 14 travel industry firms from Australia and Indonesia shared views during the four-day meeting last week. Among the companies were Qantas Holidays, Qantas Airways, Bali-based Air Paradise International, Harvey World Travel, Flight Center Ltd., New Horizons Holidays, San Michele Travel/Indonesian Travel Center, Tourism Task Force, representative from Australian MICE Industry, the Council of Australian Tour Operators, Pacific Asia Travel Association and International Tourism Training Services.

A number of important figures from various Australian governments and parliaments were also present at the bilateral meeting. Senator Alan Ferguson from South Australia, Bruce Baird, Federal Member for Cook, and the Federal Member for Curtin, Ms. Julie Bishop, were among the key persons in attendance.

An executive of the Australian-Indonesia Business Council said the meeting was very important but the involvement of the Indonesian tourism industry should have been stronger given that only a small number of Bali tourism figures took part.

Senator Alan Ferguson explained that it was still quite difficult for the Australian government to lift the travel advisory against Bali and Indonesia.

"We have to also accept that travel advisories will be around for some time in today's international climate and that the position of foreign governments must be respected," he said.

Nonetheless, the Australian government resolved to join in international efforts to lessen the impact of travel advisories on tourism and travel.

The Australian tourism leaders advised the Indonesian tourism authorities to work hand-in-hand with judicial officials to ensure that exposure regarding the perpetrators of the October incidents is minimized as this was continuing to cause enormous distress and ongoing negative publicity for Bali internationally.

Over the past four months, there has been massive local and international media coverage on the progress of the Bali bombing investigation, including in Australia. Australians made up more than 80 out of 202 victims who died in the bombings.

"The pictures of the alleged bombing perpetrators grinning and smiling really hurt the Australian public," said one participant.

Myra P. Gunawan, deputy for tourism affairs at the Indonesian Cultural and Tourism Board, said she felt heartened that the Australian tourism industry was paying serious attention to Bali's plight. "I hope this will extend to other countries as well," she said.

Indonesia, she said, had conducted various promotional activities and government-to-government lobbying to bring international visitors back to Bali and other places in Indonesia.