Land of love still woos Aussies

baliIs it a case of back to Bali, or have Australian travellers actually never left? CHRISTINE RETSCHLAG reports on our ongoing love affair with the Indonesian island. 

DESPITE a turbulent few months for the Indonesian holiday haven, courtesy of its smoldering volcano, Indonesian representatives 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.”

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.

The impact of the Mount Raung volcanic ash cloud over Bali and subsequent impact on tourist arrivals in August is becoming more apparent, as the latest temporary visitor data shows. 

Preliminary arrival figures from the Bali Government Tourist Office indicate the Indonesia tourist hot-spot suffered a five-year low in August, with Aussie numbers dropping to 58,430, down a monumental 30 per cent on the corresponding month last year.

However, 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”. 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.

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