Imagine the reaction if Australians died in mysterious circumstances in one of the Pacific islands. It’s a sure bet that marketers selling holiday-makers on their paradise in the tropics northeast of Australia would face an uphill battle, at least in the short term.
But Australians with airline bookings to Bali have hardly missed a beat despite last week’s tragic deaths of a Queensland woman and her daughter on the holiday island.
There will be keen interest in the outcome of the investigation into the deaths, following the Queensland government intervention with a coroner’s inquiry, but Bali-bound Australians have thumbed their noses at the terrorism threat, so they’re unlikely to be put off by what may or may not turn out to be a case of food poisoning.
In fact there are many deaths and injuries of Australians in Bali that are never reported at all.
But it takes more than chaotic traffic, food poisoning, Bali Belly, beach touts and the recent rabies epidemic to keep Australians away.
Historically, Australians played second fiddle to the Japanese as the biggest group of foreigners in Bali.
But since the 2002 and 2005 Bali terrorist bombings, which targeted Westerners and Australians in particular, Australians have flocked back to their Indonesian home-away-from-home to the extent that there are now more than twice as many Australians (an estimated 754,000 in 2013) as the next-biggest group of international visitors, the Chinese (361,000), who now dwarf the Japanese contingent (192,000 – affected by the 2011 natural disaster in Japan).
The spectacularly successful Indonesian military crackdown on terrorism is also encouraging Australians to see more of Indonesia as a whole. That number now exceeds 800,000 and is likely to challenge the one million-plus heading for New Zealand in the next few years as the most popular international destination for Australians.
What is the Bali magic? Apart from the glorious year-round tropical weather and the attraction of the Balinese themselves, it’s the value for money on the ground.
At nearly 11,000 Indonesian rupiah to the Australian dollar, everything’s cheap – which is one major reason that, kilometre for kilometre, it is one of the more expensive holiday air tickets from the Australian east coast.
Even though Denpasar is only six hours’ flying from the Australian east coast capitals, fares rarely fall below $700 return and are often $900-plus – the same as the low-season specials to Asian destinations like Bangkok and Hong Kong, which are 50 per cent further away.
But the biggest purchase you’ll make once you land – your accommodation – is subject to relentless, year-round, ferocious price competition.
If you can’t find a serviceable, clean place to drop your stuff for $20-$30 a night, you’re doing something wrong. And if you want to go upmarket, $100 a night will buy you four-star that may end up costing you $200-$300 in Australia.
The Bali chapter of the Indonesian Tourism Association – that is, the establishment – recently noted with excitement that average room rates in the top-of-the-town Nusa Dua resort district now exceed $US150 a night.
But the tourism newsletter, Bali Update, recently lamented the fierce competition in the rest of the island as “tragic” and quoted tourism officials forecasting doom for those engaging in the ongoing price war.
“The issue is not the price of a hotel room, but whether that price is viable with the level of service and guest satisfaction promised,” according to local travel agent and director of national tourism association’s Bali chapter, Bagus Sudibya.
He raises long-standing concerns that some accommodation properties are being built as part of money-laundering scams and thinks there should be greater regulatory controls on hotel prices.
But accommodation prices, like many other features of the Bali experience, are gloriously free of any Big Brother overlord, with the result that occupancy rates – the average number of rooms filled – across the island on average are a lowly 56 per cent, compared with 60 per cent in 2012, with rampant construction of new villas blamed for the drop.
Do you shop around for the best Bali accommodation deals? Do you have a favourite you return to year after year? Have you bypassed Bali for other parts of Indonesia? Do you avoid Bali due to the number of Australians that head there? Post your comments below.