Why Aussies will always return to Bali

ON the weekend, I was in Sydney as a finalist for Best Travel Writer at the Australian Federation of Travel Agents’ (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards. My piece, which first appeared in TravelBulletin Magazine late last year, examined some of the big issues which have plagued Bali for the past decade, and the future impact on Aussie travellers to this Indonesian island. Trying to convince anyone to talk about Bali was harder than you may think. No one wants to upset our Indonesia neighbours, at the same time recognising there are some serious challenges facing the tourism industry.
It was tempting to submit a delicious destination piece, waxing lyrical about sunrises and surprises, but as a travel writer who also specialises in tourism trade stories, I believe it’s equally important to tell the news of our industry. Congratulations to my long-time peer Allan Leibowitz for winning the award, you’ve been fighting the good fight of writing great tourism trade stories for years and your accolade is much deserved. Please find my award entry, below…
IS it a case of back to Bali, or have Australian travellers actually never left? Despite a turbulent few months for the Indonesian holiday haven, courtesy of its smoldering volcano, early figures suggest Australians will continue their insatiable love affair with the island destination.
Airlines travelling the lucrative Australian-Denpasar route were caught in a game of Snakes and Ladders throughout July and August when a giant ash cloud from Mount Raung forced carriers to repeatedly cancel, then resume, then again cancel services. Some holidaymakers were stranded in Bali for weeks, while others were unable to reach their desired destination.
Alison Roberts-Brown, the most recent Australian Representative of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism (the newly elected Indonesian Government is yet to confirm any firm contracts), says Aussie tourists to the destination are far more resilient than some people believe.
“The Australian public doesn’t seem to be deterred by the volcanic activity in Indonesia and passengers continue to travel to Bali and beyond regardless,” she says.
“It has so many selling points. It is our very closest neighbour, it has a rich and exotic culture compared to ours, it has a unique price point and its proximity in terms of distance is second-to-none.
“It doesn’t matter where you go in the world there will be all sorts of dangers but the people who have been to Bali continue to return.”
Roberts-Brown says a lot of experiences such as diving, hiking and sacred Buddhist shrines remain “under marketed” in Indonesia and are waiting to be discovered.
“The Indonesian population relies heavily on tourism and they are an extremely warm and welcoming country with lots of diversity to offer,” she says.
“There are nearly 17,000 islands and Australians are now remembering there are other parts to Indonesia as well such as central Java and Lombok.
“Indonesia attracts every segment from families to students to well-heeled travellers. There is something for everybody, from high-end product as well as things for the adventure traveller.”
Roberts-Brown’s claims are supported by the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures. Outgoing Australian travellers to Bali show remarkably little difference in month-on-month visitors between January and June. In January, 93,300 Aussies departed for Bali with the number peaking, somewhat predictably around Easter to 94,200 before slightly tapering off to 93,900 in June.
While there are no figures yet available for the months affected by the volcanic ash, and beyond, there is little to suggest Mother Nature will have a long-term impact of Australian visitor numbers.
After all, Australians have been through much with this destination, including the Bali bombings in 2002. Tourism operators around the island have always been quick to praise Aussie tourists as being the first to return and start spending again. While the jailing of convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, followed by that of the Bali 9, spooked some travellers and prompted an outcry of outrage in some quarters within Australia, Aussie tourists continued to flock to the island. Not even the April execution of Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, which sparked arguably the greatest pressure on Australians to boycott Bali, has had an effect.
Beanca Daluz, General Manager of Garuda Orient Holidays which is owned by the same parent company as Garuda Indonesia, says they experienced “a number” of cancellations due to the ash cloud as insurance companies did not cover disruptions after July 3.
“Garuda Indonesia, operating Airbus 330s out of Australia, were able to still fly to Bali on some days given their larger engine capacity and aircraft type, and also had the ability to reroute to neighbouring Jakarta and Surabaya airports,” Daluz says.
“We therefore did not experience as many disruptions compared to Jetstar and Virgin Australia passengers. Short-term confidence was challenged due to the ash cloud but due to school holidays as well as other holidays coming up, we anticipate a bounce back.
“Our partners on the ground (hotels and ground suppliers) have been extremely aggressive in promoting Bali and their own properties by providing numerous special offers and exclusive deals.
“We expect numbers to increase for travel during our peak season over the Christmas and New Year period.”
Recent figures reveal one Australian dies in Bali every nine days including Queenslanders Noelene Bischoff and her daughter Yvana who died last year from food poisoning and 18-year-old Jake Flannery who was electrocuted in 2011 after accidentally touching an exposed power line.
But still, Australians keep flocking to what Balinese have dubbed “the land of love”.
And from October 1, Australian visitors will be exempt from having to pay a USD35 visa on arrival, making the south-east Asian destination even more attractive, particularly to the budget-conscious holiday maker.
Despite the fact the odds seem repeatedly stacked against this Indonesian destination, it appears there is little to deter Aussie travellers from returning in the long run.
The Global Goddess stayed in Sydney as a guest of TFE Hotels in the glorious Adina Apartment Hotel Sydney Central. This historic hotel, built between 1910 and 1915, was once The Australian Post Office. A landmark restored building on the Sydney streetscape – replete with giant loft windows – it boasts 98 one and two bedroom apartment and studio rooms. And best of all, it is located right next to Central Station, and is an easy train ride to and from Sydney Airport. Check it out next time you are in town – http://www.TFEhotels.com/adina

It’s a Sign

IF you’re searching for answers in your life, they say you should look for the signs. In Indonesia, the signs find you. They’re colourful, often riddled with bad spelling, but always amusing. In Part Two of my Indonesian photo blog series, please look at these signs. (And feel free to share any you’ve encountered on your travels in the comments section, below).
There are the saucy signs…
The shark signs…
The rather obvious signs…
And even one for the cat lovers…
The Global Goddess funded her own travels to Indonesia

The Many Faces of Indonesia

FACES and places. As I reluctantly relinquish those long, languid days of cool sarongs, cold beers, ocean swims and sunsets, and sit down at my desk to plan 2016, the thing that most excites me is those faces I haven’t yet met. For me, travel is all about the characters, the people whose personalities sing the true story of a destination. Sitting here in Brisbane, I can’t begin to imagine upon whom I’ll stumble this year, and that thought alone is incredibly exciting. Today I’m launching a three-part photo series of my Indonesian adventures over Christmas. And I thought it would be apt to start with the faces that made me smile. Happy New Year! Please enjoy.
There were the cool dudes…
The happy kids…
The beautiful Muslim women…
The elegant older men…
And even the statues seemed to have something to say…
The Global Goddess funded her own travels to Indonesia

Boobs, buffalo and Bali

EVERYONE keeps telling me I’ll meet a man when I least expect it, and so it was that I stumbled across Driftwood. On this particular evening I wasn’t looking to meet someone, I was on my way to the toilet after an especially hedonistic night with mates, on the beach, at Lombok.

He resembled some flotsam that had washed up on the beach at high tide. Picture Shaggy from Scooby Doo (both in name and nature) a sarong worn commando (he offered to show me his Mystery Machine), and a suspected lifetime of illegal, green, leafy material, and you’ve pretty much met Driftwood. My girlfriends swear I was swooshing my hair as I spoke to him at the bar, enroute to the dunny. I maintain it was the tropical heat making my hair stick to the nape of my neck that was causing what looked like a primitive sexual overture on my part. Suffice to say, I continued on towards the toilet – replete with coconut door handles not unlike boobs – and Driftwood stayed at the bar, except for the end of the evening when he sauntered past and kissed my head with his whiskey breath.

It had already been a bit of a colourful day on this remote Indonesian island which many liken to Bali “20 years ago”.  We’d visited a traditional village that morning for a cooking demonstration, but I had failed to read the bit which stated we’d be eating what we cooked. Which would have been OK, had it not been for the flies, the heat, and what appeared to be rancid buffalo. What to do? Risk offending the village people, or risk becoming sick?

And so I came up with the only plausible solution at the time. I told my guide I had “women’s issues” and I needed to go back to the hotel…and I needed to take not one, but three of my friends with me. In my defence, I am a woman and I have plenty of issues, so it wasn’t exactly a lie. And here’s where it became even more interesting. For the brave souls who stayed on, not only was there buffalo on the menu, but one of the village grandmothers was breastfeeding her grandson. She wouldn’t have been a day younger than 80. Given the choice between the buffalo and grandma, I am not ashamed to say I would have taken Option B.

Back at the hotel, the party continues. One of my friends – for the sake of this story let’s call her Jodi – gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom in her room. She walks out the front door instead and locks herself out into the humid night. There’s cocktails on the beach at sunset, limbo competitions and a slew of satay. Nick’s private pool party is all bean bags and bonhomie.

But there’s a serious side to this trip as well. It’s shortly after the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombing and we’re in Indonesia for the Australian Society of Travel Writers annual conference. Guest speaker Australian Janet De Neefe is talking about how she conceived the Ubud Writers Festival following the act of terrorism which claimed the lives of 88 Australians.

Janet, who went to Bali on a holiday 25 years ago and met her husband on the second day, describes the long weeks and months after the bombing and its effect on Indonesia and its much-needed tourism.

 “Suddenly, everything stops. It is like the end of the party. The place is deserted and everyone is gone,” she says.

 “I had to do something. It was my turn to make a contribution. Bali had been very good to me…we’ve got terrorism on our toes, let’s think of an event that is really meaningful.

 “I suddenly thought ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Bring in the people who are fearless. Bring in the writers.”

The first Ubud Writers Festival Through Darkness to Light attracted an audience of 300. This year, more than 25,000 people were drawn to Ubud which Janet describes as “the exotic tropics in its most native sense…exquisite.”

Next year, she hopes to attract Colin Firth, yes, Mr Darcy, to the festival.

I am swept up in the romance of her words, her festival and her adopted country. Days later, I arrive in Bali itself and am humbled by a conversation I have with a Balinese man who works at the resort pool.

“You from Australia? We love Australians. After the Bali bombings, everyone stopped coming, except the Australians. You kept coming.”

I think about what I sometimes call the “ugly Australian tourist” in Bali who drinks too much, is way too loud, and is flat out finding some bare skin for yet another tattoo. So I am surprised and delighted at how the Balinese still view most Australians.

And perhaps it’s as simple as that. Maybe Australian travellers to Bali are as crucially predictable as the tide. We sweep in and we sweep out. 

Just ask Driftwood.

 The Global Goddess would like to thank the ASTW for a terrific conference and the Novotel Lombok and Garuda Indonesia for their outstanding hospitality, patience and assistance. For more information go to www.accorhotels.com; www.garuda-indonesia.com And a special shout out to Novotel Lombok General Manager Brian – the Vasse Felix was worth every drop!