By Ross B. Taylor
Almost every one of the 385,000 West Australians who visit Bali each year would have their own drunken yobbo story of ugly, alcohol affected men and women fighting and misbehaving on the streets of Kuta.
Sadly, more than often the drunken behaviour starts in the departure lounge at Perth Airport where it wasn’t uncommon to see so-called bogans drinking stubbies at 6.30am whilst waiting for their boarding call.
It was never a good look for Australians, particularly in a deeply religious place such as Indonesia’s favourite holiday island, yet with tourism now representing over 80% of Bali’s entire economy, and the 1.05 million Aussie visitors each year contributing $3.1 billion to Indonesia’s economy – most of that in Bali – it is not hard to see why our bad behaviour has been mostly tolerated.
News this weekend that an Australian woman was arrested in relation to the apparent murder of a Bali policeman is sobering. The good news however is that in general Australians are now maturing as travellers with the vast majority of holidaymakers enjoying their average of eight days on the island without embarrassing themselves – and their country – by drunken and disrespectful behaviour.
The Australian Embassy in Jakarta has provided details which support the claim that today Australians are actually very well behaved whilst in Bali. Last year only five Australians per month or 0.006% were involved in matters resulting in police attendance or investigations. Furthermore, only 500 Australians – or 0.05% - sought assistance from the Australian Consulate in Denpasar during the entire twelve month period.
So why the change? Partly because that Australians have started to seek newer and more interesting experiences when going to Bali, having tired of the week-long drunken binge experience. Bali has also reinvented itself into a world ‘mecca’ for foodies with highly qualified chefs from around the world choosing to make Bali their home, and bringing a quality of food preparation and service that one would normal expect from high-class restaurants in Europe.
Today in Bali, those who are willing to pay upwards of $100 per head for a meal can experience stunning food and service, whilst others still prefer the simple but enjoyable food found at restaurants such as Ultimo in Seminyak.
Bali now also provides exceptional adventure experiences for tourists in locations far from the tourist hotspots such as Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. The Seven’s Network’s Today Tonight will this coming week feature a four-part series presented by Tina Altieri about The New Bali that will introduce places we have never heard of; remote and stunning waterfalls, amazing bike rides through beautiful rice paddy fields and small villages or ‘kampungs’ and hotels that will take your breath away for natural beauty.
It is these experiences that are starting to attract tourists from around the World including mainland China who this year will pass Australia as the major supplier of foreign tourists to this small Indonesian island.
And Australian businesses are starting to see the opportunities in Bali There are over 90 Australian companies in Bali operating across a broad range of industries including import-export, food and beverage, textiles, computer programming and mariculture.
The relationship therefore, between Australia and Bali, has matured and grown significantly over the years, and grown dramatically since this ageing writer first headed to Kuta Beach in 1972 to find only two small guest houses and one partially built restaurant that they were going to call ‘Poppies’.
The yobbo culture will always be present in and around Kuta, as will the reports of deaths and injuries, but we must remember with over a million of us going to Bali every year, accidents and ‘bumps’ in the relationship will occur.
Yet Bali still represents exceptional value for Australians thanks to a local currency that has tracked the Australian dollar down over the past two years, and intense competition between the numerous airlines that service Bali every day from Perth.
The other good news is that despite the reports in the media that Indonesia may ban alcohol production and sales soon, it is a fair bet that with their president’s direction that Indonesia must attract even more tourists to not only Bali, but also to the exceptional other provinces and natural wonders, throughout the vast archipelago, tourists will still be able to enjoy a glass of wine or sit on the beach and watch the sunset with a Bintang in hand for many years to come.
Ross Taylor Am is the President of the Indonesia Institute Inc. Twitter: @indorosstaylor
(This article first appeared in The West Australian Newspaper on Monday 22nd August 2016)