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
EVERY now and then I am overcome by the notion that I just need to disappear off the face of the planet for a week or so. And I generally pick a destination or activity that is way beyond my comfort zone and/or level of ability (which, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, is somewhat limited to drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my back deck while pondering the parlous state of the world). As is often the case when I make any major life decisions, my choices are based purely on how a place name sounds. Yes, you’ll find me in crazy Kazakhstan or yummy Yemen any day now. Iraq sounds quite harsh to the ear but Kabul itself somewhat intriguing. I’m the same when it comes to cooking or eating out. I’ll order Baba Ghanoush while imagining I’m in an exotic Arabian land, or buy all the ingredients to cook a big pot of Jambayla just for one, because I’m convinced someone has made a huge mistake and I’m actually a sexy Spaniard. Woy Woy – well I’ve toy toyed with a trip there too. And it was only last week when I found myself downward dog facing the jungles of Ubud at a yoga retreat that I realised just how out of sync my imagination is with my body.
Lured by this particular retreat’s name “Escape the World” I flew myself to Bali and trekked up to Ubud (by trekking, I mean being picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle by my own driver), and threw myself into this concept with gusto. What could be so hard about a total of 20 hours of yoga, a 22km bike ride, wanderings through the rice paddies, and, most interestingly, 24 hours of silence where it would just me and my mischievous monkey mind?
And I didn’t know it at the time of booking, but French Canadian Claude Chouinard runs Oneworld Retreats in partnership with two Ubud princes who happen to have their regal residences also on site. Unfortunately for me, both princes were also getting married the very day I arrived, but I remain convinced had they just waited another 24 hours, at least one of them would have fallen in love with me at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about a bedraggled Brisbane girl, hair frizzing in the Indonesian humidity, coming off the effects of her usual red wine and Xanax flying combination, clutching her duty free stash of secret wine and gin in one hand, and a yoga mat in the other? There may also be that teeny tiny issue that I am not Balinese royalty, into which both boys also married, in what is said to be a bid to preserve the culture. And I’m not sure mentioning I’m The Global Goddess and practically Brisbane royalty has the same effect, but I was prepared to give it a shot.
On our first night, Claude reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself,” he says.
“What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe.
“Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
At first I am afraid, I am Gloria Gaynor petrified. But then I discover while I’m not allowed to read, and am discouraged from making eye contact with my fellow retreat participants even when we are in yoga classes together, I am allowed to write. And if there’s anything I love more than talking, it’s writing. But it must be mindful, and we are encouraged to pen the things we really want out of this life, and those we wish to rid, which will be burned later in the week in a sacred Balinese ceremony. After yoga and breakfast on my private balcony, I scribble and scribble until my pen runs out of ink. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and the food (like everything else at this retreat) is no hardship. I lunch long and languidly on the typical Indonesian salad Gado Gado (again, savouring how the words swirl around my tongue) and there’s the delicious Dadar Gulung – an Indonesian coconut crepe – for dessert.
I have a massage after lunch, and determined not to sleep but remain “mindful” to my silence, I spend the afternoon painting. I end up finishing 6 paintings (3 of which are all words) and have almost convinced myself I have captured the spirit of the talented Ubud artists who inhabit this lovely land, before I realise my ego again, is outrunning my actual talent. A swim, another yoga session, and it’s dinner on my deck, the highlight of which is steamed prawns in banana leaf. I contemplate cracking open my duty free wine but a combination of wishing to remain mindful and the fact I have a sore throat prevents this digression. My yoga teacher later tells me my throat chakra is blocked because of my fear of the silence. A less enlightened version of myself would argue it’s because of his incessant incense burning.
Each day passes in a similar dreamy rhythm. Yoga in the morning with the affable Iyan Yaspriyana while the jungle around us awakens and the cicadas chant a chorus of encouragement from the forest. Iyan encourages us every day to “go deeper”, reminding us that the mind can sometimes trick the body that it can’t go further, when it can. Daily affirmations are left in our room (and in my case, a harmless tree snake which I embrace as a good sign), there’s a dawn yoga class at volcano Batur, an evening water purification ceremony at Tirta Empul, a Balinese offering class, lunch in the rice paddies, and a closing ceremony at the retreat’s temple in which we pause to give gratitude for our lives. And most of all, I learn to sit with myself, observe the demons, laugh at the monkey, and love myself just that little bit more. According to Baby Ram Das: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” I can already hear the next exotic-sounding destination whispering my name.
The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Bali and her Escape the World retreat with Oneworld in Ubud. To book your own escape, go to http://www.oneworldretreats.com