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Who’s in Charge When Disaster Strikes?

Jakarta Post Feature Article Lauding Bali Update’s Mission to Tell the Truth About Bali Tourism

Kadek Adidharma is a tourism operator from Bali currently on sabbatical at the University of Auckland where he is studying Disaster Management. The Jakarta Post recently published as a feature article containing Kadek’s comments on media communication and disaster management in Indonesia.

What follow is Kadek’s unedited article submitted to The Jakarta Post.

Balidiscovery.com and Bali Update thank Kadek Adidharma for his kind accolade.

Who’s in Charge When Disaster Strikes?
Kadek Krishna Adidharma

Natural catastrophes do not always spell disaster to the tourism industry. Handled well, the temporary dip during a natural disaster could lead to a sustained period of growth.

Tourism operators in Bali share Cabinet Secretary Pramono Agung’s Monday concern that natural disasters come at “a high price to tourism in the region” and agree that there is no need to declare the Lombok earthquakes a national disaster.

It is obvious that the response and recovery efforts are being well coordinated, however there is a huge gap of information to be filled between the efforts on the ground and potential visitors abroad.

Why can a disaster fuel growth? Because for a sustained period, the disaster is highlighted in the world media and people are talking about it around the globe. Bad news travels fast and catches attention that advertising cannot buy.

However, there is a caveat: the stories coming out of the disaster need to be tempered with compassion and reason, and it is important to communicate clear messages of preparedness and resilience. The world needs to know that Indonesia is prepared to face natural disasters and
can bounce back better and stronger than ever.

We are fortunate to have developed robust capacity in dealing with natural disasters in our national and regional disaster mitigation agencies. However, no government department is taking charge of communicating the stories of our recovery and resilience to the world.

The speed at which our disaster mitigation agencies respond to and share information about natural disasters is impressive. Besides the regular press releases and news bulletin on the BNPB web site, an Incident Commander is appointed for each natural disaster to manage the flow of up-to-the-minute information through various channels including SMS and WhatsApp groups.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism is also highly responsive in issuing press releases, statements and well-curated stories. They have even appointed a contact person, the Deputy Director for Tourism Crisis Management, Dessy Ruhati.

But these stories are only sent out through the Indonesia.travel website and media partners of the Ministry of Tourism. Rather than putting out any fires caused by sensationalist reporting in the world media or social media, they are simply preaching to the converted.

Two weeks ago, UK’s Express and Australian media have already started calling the earthquakes in the West Nusa Tenggara province the “Bali Earthquakes” simply because they were felt by UK and Australian citizens in Bali.

Sensationalist media do not care about accuracy, they simply want to be the first to report any juicy alarmist morsels for click-bait. Even
Vogue Australia couldn’t resist reporting the trembling of an Instagram model.  The question the tourism industry has been asking
is, who is in charge of fighting these false rumors?

Time Magazine dubbed John M Daniels’ Bali Update as Bali’s “Ministry of Truth” after the Bali Bombings due to his tireless reporting. But ‘Jack’ Daniels, as he is better known, is just one man working from home out of his own pocket. Surely it is time for significant resources to be invested to establish a Ministry of Truth to save Indonesia’s tourism industry from such blatant misinformation.

Iceland’s tourism dipped briefly during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010, when ash from the volcano disrupted the travel of over 10 million people across Europe.  Icelandic Tourist Board is proud to report, however, that the total number of overnight stays by foreign visitors to Iceland grew from 2.1 million in 2010 to 4.4 million in 2014.

This rapid recovery was in part because they embraced the disaster and took control of the story. Iceland is now a popular destination for volcano tours. There’s no reason Indonesia can’t be even more popular than Iceland. We often have six or more volcanoes active at any given time!

Look at the case of New Zealand Tourism after the devastating earthquakes of 2011 and 2016. There was a brief dip in numbers in the third and fourth quarter of 2012, but overall, tourism numbers have continued its upward march.

After an eight-month dry spell of tourism brought on by the botched closure of Ngurah Rai in November 2017, Bali had barely enjoyed three weeks of its traditional high season when the first earthquake struck its neighboring island. Hotel occupancies, traditionally high for the entire month of August, have already started to drop.

Will the Minister of Truth please stand up?

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