Having just returned from World Travel Mart (WTM) in London, it seems increasingly clear that ambitious plans to accelerate steadily improving arrival totals from the U.K. and European markets will be stymied by the continuing lack of air seats from those markets to Bali.
Garuda's complete and utter retreat from Europe has resulted in not only fewer Bali-bound seats but also a lower presence overall in the European marketplace. Where Bali was once a destination in its own right ex-Europe, it has now become little more than a secondary "extension stop" on a holiday to another competing destination in the region.
This lack of seats operating to Bali means that the hotels and tour operators from Bali who invested heavily in participating at WTM would have found it problematic to address any genuine enquiry for a large group conference or incentive actively considering Bali as a destination. In the absence of more flights to Bali, the island will remain marginalized in its effort to seek the more lucrative group and conference markets from Europe.
More Realistic Thinking Needed
While government officials, including Indonesia's Minister of Culture and Tourism, continue to publicly call on Garuda, or other Indonesian carriers, to commence service between London and Bali, such "posing" must be seen as more politic than practical. Given Garuda's precarious current financial footing and the substantial "start-up" costs, in terms of marketing and infrastructure, to commence European service it's highly unlikely that an Indonesian carrier will be landing anytime soon in Heathrow or elsewhere in Europe. Not to labor the point, but Garuda's recent abrupt withdrawal from the European market almost guarantees that major wholesalers would withhold support from any proposed scheme to restart European service, choosing to "wait and see" if the Indonesian carrier was really going to stay the distance before including its flights in any costly brochure offering.
In the Meantime, the Island's Tourism Continues to Suffer
Difficult times, such as these, require strong leadership and focused thinking – both commodities in scant supply when it comes to the current state of the Country's tourism.
With World Bank reports suggesting that the very future of the Island is threatened by rising drop-out rates at local schools where parents are no longer able to pay school fees, Bali desperately needs dramatic, short-term remedial action to prevent the complete derailment of its tourism-dependent economy.
Some of the steps that would help bring relief to the current plight, include:
▪ An "open skies" policy for airlines carrying "long-haul" passengers to Bali in order to regain these longer-staying, higher-spending tourists from Europe and the U.S.A..
▪ Personal visits by Bali Tourism Board and representatives of the Culture and Tourism Ministry on air carriers already flying to Bali and on potential new carriers asking what specifically can be done to encourage more flights and more seats to Bali. Richard Branston's Virgin Airlines once publicly expressed a desire to fly to Bali; Shouldn't someone be seking to rekindle that desire?
Similarly, that there are airlines asking for expanded passenger rights to Bali that continue to encounter refusal from Indonesia's Civil Aviation Authorities is unconscionable, given the current state of Bali's economy.
▪ Urgent changes must be made in the administration of the current visa-on-arrival policy to once again encourage Europe's graying market to stay in Indonesia for more than the current limit of 30 days, permitting visits to the more remote regions of the Country worst hit by the new 30 day maximum stay visa.
▪ Undertaking an urgent and critical independent review of Bali's airport to ensure that both the cost and quality of ground services are competitive in every way with other destinations in the region. Such a review should address cost of landing rights and support services as well as an assessment of comparative security standards vis-à-vis other airports in the region.
▪ An urgent management review of Bali's airport that strives to provide much needed "calm" and a better total travel experience for the passengers traveling via Bali's international gateway. In a region that has become home to some of the world's most sophisticated airports, Bali must take a hard look at an airport that has become a disorderly and chaotic "morning market" for porters, unscrupulous officials, and time-share salesmen preying on the holidaymakers who provide the very bread and butter of the Island's main industry.
In the end, the most critical step in improving Bali's travel fortunes is to offer a genuine welcome to airlines and passengers passing through its single international gateway.
As dismal arrival figures and the sad state of the local economy bear witness: it's high time something was done!
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