Posts Tagged ‘tourists’


Draconian Anti-Smoking Law Hits Bali

November 30, 2011

There is nothing more pleasant than sitting in one of Bali’s thousands of open-air restaurants or cafes. Delectable food, a cool drink, or even a book – in case the passing parade of absurdities begins to pall – and a cigarette or two to enhance the experience. The outdoor ambience, and the fact that ventilating breezes minimise the impact of any occasional wisps of smoke on others makes Bali a relaxing getaway for those who choose to indulge their habit without nanny-state interference.

Not any more.

The inexorable tide of do-gooder interference has finally reached the previously easy-going shores of Bali. A law implemented only this week now bans smoking in many parts of Bali. Any place designated as a “tourism destination”, or “tourism support facility” is henceforth to be smoke-free. The list of proscribed premises includes some intelligent bans, such as places of worship, health facilities, schools and children’s playgrounds. But this draconian legislation goes much further, enmeshing hotels, open-air markets, airports, restaurants, cafes, bars and night clubs in its web. Smoking is to be banned in all of these places. They will also be prohibited from selling or advertising tobacco products as well.

A straw poll taken this evening at a local cafe revealed that more than two-thirds of the patrons were smoking. The effect on air quality was negligible. Later in the evening, the staff at a local bar were stunned when I told them about the new legislation. Looking around at his customers, most of whom were smoking, a senior barman summed up Bali’s new by-law with a pithy “That’s bullshit! They can’t do that! We will lose all our customers.” Still later, at an open-plan restaurant nearby, I observed most of the customers lighting up after their meals. I asked a few of them for their thoughts, and most of their responses were tinged with anger. “That’s crazy!” was a typical answer. “We come to Bali to get away from all the stupid laws at home, and now this! Oh well, if they bring it in, we’ll just go somewhere else.”  Thailand featured as an alternative destination for quite a few, while Malaysia was mentioned by others. Even the restaurant staff were jolted by the news, saying, “But no-one will come here any more …”

Without a doubt, smoking is unhealthy. But it is a lifestyle choice – as well as an addiction – for most of us smokers. It is not up to self-appointed elites in government to presume that they know best, and on that basis to mandate what is “good for us”. For us smokers, it is our choice to smoke. In Bali, where open, ventilated structures are the norm and effect on non-smokers is minimal, this legislation is both oppressive and unnecessary. Its implementation will be problematic, if only for the reason that laws in Indonesia are meaningless until wrapped in their subsequent rat’s nest of regulations. Given the inept drafting of most laws here, getting a workable regulatory framework up and running could take years.

So let’s scratch a little beneath the surface of this nonsense to find out what the real motivation is. Supposedly, it is for health reasons. But will it discourage the Balinese population from smoking? Probably not. The overwhelming majority of locals do not sit in bars, frequent cafes and restaurants or play in expensive tourism enclaves. Foreigners do. The purported “health benefits” look a little shaky when you look at the prescribed penalties. Miscreants who flout the new non-smoking regulations will be banished to languish in the over-crowded Kerobokan prison for up to six months, or pay a fine of 50 million rupiah ($5,475 AUD). This is not a penalty aimed at locals who could never afford it, instead it is targeted squarely at foreigners.

Bali’s Governor Made Mangku Pastika has already foreshadowed the true intention of this law, saying,  “I think tourists will understand … it is Bali’s people who often do not understand.” In its implementation phase, it is clear that smoking locals will be ignored by the police, while ‘rich’ bules will be expected to pay substantial bribes to avoid the threat of a costly court case and exorbitant fines for … smoking. You know, a bit like only bules being stopped for not wearing a helmet. No, Governor, I don’t think tourists will “understand” at all. They will see it for what it is – another unashamed grab at the wallets of the very people who are part of the underpinnings of Bali’s economy.

The Chairman of the Bali Tourism Board, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, clearly understands that officials might have trouble enforcing the regulation for locals. In the DPRD building where the law was passed on the 28th November, smoking is rife amongst the lawmakers. “Every time I am invited for a hearing at the DPRD”, he said, “members smoke in the meeting room.” I very much doubt that will change after the law is brought in. And yet he naïvely goes on to say, “but I don’t think we will have a problem from tourists.” Oh, really?

Well, let’s wait and see. This issue is not about smoking. It is about personal freedom. I suspect that any implementation of the type of despicable social engineering that Australia’s do-gooders have fallen in love with, and that has made Singapore such an over-regulated nanny state, will backfire in Bali. The people who come here do so because they are, at least temporarily, free from the fanatical zeal of self-appointed arbiters of personal choice. They are willing to overlook the rubbish, the crumbling infrastructure, the corruption and the incessant demands for money because of that sense of freedom, and the magic that derives from that.

What if  loss of freedom to smoke here turns out to be the tipping point that causes a shift in the delicate balance of factors that drive travel decisions? Bali is freedom. But if visitors stop feeling free in Bali, they will simply stop coming.

UPDATE: OK, time for me to ‘fess up. This was a mild troll  designed to see what people really think – and the comment responses make that fairly clear. In the interests of fairness, I left them all in, including the abusive ones.  

As expected, only a few people noticed a tag attached to this post, i.e. “a troll to gauge reaction”. My personal view  is that neither smokers nor non-smokers should be advantaged or  disadvantaged. Where the practice of smoking affects the health or comfort of non-smokers, I fully agree that steps should be taken to prevent this harm. Restaurants are a perfect example – my habit should not impinge on your right to breathe smoke-free air. The challenge is to provide workable solutions for all stakeholders.

But I draw the line at people who condemn and marginalise all smokers as an article of faith, or because they are just “wrong” to smoke.  I acknowledge that opponents of smoking may be right. But I do object when this crosses the line into becoming righteous.

Thank you for your comments. They are enlightening.


How to Make Tourists and Expats Disappear from Bali

June 13, 2010

It’s always interesting to talk to new visitors to Bali and glean their first impressions. I am somewhat enamoured of the place myself – despite its flaws – so it always comes as a mild shock to speak to someone who has their head screwed on a little tighter than mine, someone perhaps less prone to falling for the ‘paradise’ tag promoted by tourism authorities. In the last six months, I have heard increasing numbers of  grumbles from people who have been disappointed with their Bali experience. The latest such disaffected person is someone who has lived in various locations in South-East Asia. This was his first visit to Bali.

When asked the inevitable question: “What do you think of Bali?”, his response was measured, but honest. He said: “Well, it’s not as beautiful as advertised …” My reaction was to bristle. I felt mildly insulted, and protective towards this island I have come to love. I thought to myself , oh great – here is a recent blow-in who is judging the place after 2 days. How dare he! But of course, a few moments’ reflection showed that he was right. Bali isn’t as beautiful as advertised. No place is. The image portrayed to the outside world is a mash-up – a synthesis of the best bits to be found all over the island. No-one promoting Bali mentions the open drains, the rubbish, the deadly traffic or frustrating inefficiencies of the arrivals hall at the airport. The reality is that there is good and bad to be found in any place, but too much bad puts tourists off.

He went on to say: “It’s more expensive than advertised”.  I was compelled to agree. For a visitor, and certainly for an expat, Bali can be expensive, and it is becoming more so. Just how expensive is a question of personal choices. Do you choose to eat in expensive restaurants targeting tourists and “rich” expats, or in a cheap and cheerful warung? Do you choose to drink imported, exorbitantly-taxed wine and spirits, or limit yourself to Bintang? Do you choose to stay in a luxury villa, or find more humble accommodation? It’s a balancing act here between what the Government and local providers think that ‘pampered’ Westerners want, and what they need. Unfortunately, when tourists don’t get want they want from a destination, they don’t return.

His initial responses to Bali are, in themselves, just valid opinions. What worries me is that more and more tourists are expressing similar opinions, often on-line, and often to a large audience of potential new travellers. With so much competition from other nearby destinations, what will happen to Bali’s attractiveness as a destination if this trend accelerates?

It’s not just short-term visitors who are becoming wary of Tourist Board spin either. Based on emails received recently, long-term expats, many of whom contribute huge amounts of money and expertise to Bali, are starting to leave the island. They are saying that conditions here are “not tolerable anymore”, citing “the high cost of imported food and wine”, the “high cost for internet access” and the increasingly hostile attitude of the government towards expats. One reader even believes that there is a deliberate policy to make life difficult for expats. He asks: “… is this what the politicians in Jakarta, especially the Islamic movement, had planned when these drastic price increases were made? Is it their plan to drive the Westerners out in order to free the Indonesian people from Western influence?”

I can’t answer that. Maybe someone in Jakarta can. But I do know that punitive alcohol and food duties are driving people away. I do know that new rules – or new implementation of existing rules – have made it impossible for arriving expats to bring in their personal effects without hitting ludicrous official snags. A friend had to have all of her effects shipped back to Australia because “the rules have changed” while the goods were in transit. Others can’t pick up their goods because they don’t yet have a KITAS. Still others are being charged exorbitant and arbitrary “duty” far in excess of the official rate.

I do know that a friend’s son, enrolled in a school here, is now being denied a Student KITAS because, according to an official, “we are no longer happy about issuing a Student KITAS to people under 18”. What? Schools here can’t enrol foreign students without a KITAS.  If this is a new policy, it means that hundreds of expat families with student children will have to leave the country, or leave their children unschooled. I also know that a number of foreign teachers have recently had their KITAS extensions refused, which means they can’t work, or even stay in the country. I guess that will solve the emerging problem of too many teachers after the kids have all been kicked out, right?

So what is going on? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but things just aren’t adding up. Why are we being faced with a raft of strange rules and regulations aimed directly at the heart of Bali’s tourism industry and its expat community? Why is the regional Bali government sitting back and saying nothing when the economy of Bali is being threatened in this way? Make no mistake – alienate the tourists, marginalise the expats, and Bali loses the cornerstone of its economy. And Bali can not afford that.

Enlighten me someone. Tell me that this current regimen of crazy duties and intransigent new rules and policies is just a confluence of unrelated official stupidities. Tell me it’s not an orchestrated anti-Western campaign. But if it is, at least be honest about it. I will sadly accept that I am no longer welcome as a guest in your country and go somewhere more hospitable.