Wed, 30 Apr 2003

Budget tourism and visa policy

Fear that the new, Indonesian visa policy will kill budget tourism is absolutely right. And why is budget tourism not encouraged by the national government? Could it be that the political elite are unaware of the millions who live off budget tourism or is it that budget tourists put little cash in the pockets of the powers that be?

Budget tourists are the overwhelming majority of tourists to Indonesia. They spend less per day, but often stay longer. Many of them buy items to resell. In this way they do spend as much as wealthy, short-term tourists.

Take Kuta Beach for example -- with all of its growing pains and tragedies. Kuta is a middle-class area in a poverty-stricken country. This should be highly valued; that is, if the people are valued. Kuta grandfathers may have been fishermen or sold firewood collected on the beach, but their grandsons and granddaughters go to university, all due to budget tourism and manufacturing for small businesses.

Business visas have been, for many years, difficult and frustrating to obtain. Many small businesspeople have therefore relied on the automatic, two-month tourist visa rather than go through the hassle of obtaining a business visa.

If all of the goods sold to small businesspeople were lumped together, it would be a staggering amount. Although these goods are sold mainly in Bali, they are manufactured all over Indonesia, thus putting food in the mouths of many Indonesian families. There should be a way of simplifying the business visa process, to charge these people a fee for a two-month visa as they enter Indonesia. That way, Indonesia would keep the business that it would otherwise lose.

We, the people living off tourism in Bali, have, sadly, struggled for the last five years, culminating in the bombing last October, and are now having to deal with the reaction of tourists to SARS. Our tourists are holidaying in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos.

We wish to entice them back; however, the new visa policy is a true kick in the teeth at a time when we are struggling to survive.