Bali governor instructs closure of unlicensed Chinese shops, not worried about impact on tourism numbers

Chinese tourists in Ubud. Photo: Flickr

Bali Governor Wayan Koster has instructed municipal police to shut down Chinese shops operating illegally and says he doesn’t care if this crackdown affects the province’s tourism numbers.

The subject of so-called “zero dollar tourism” has been a hot topic since Koster took office this year after the Indonesian Association of Tours and Travel (ASITA) Bali revealed that Bali was being “undersold” to Chinese tourists by the masses. Tour agents racking up clients in China have been selling 5 day/4 night vacation packages, including roundtrip airfare and accommodation for just IDR600k (US$41), the organization found. To make matters worse, tourists in these groups hardly spend any money in Bali on their holidays, shopping at Chinese-owned shops, staffed with Chinese employees, working without the correct visa, Bali Province found in their investigation.

In the “attack” on “zero dollar tourism,” 16 shops have been found in Bali’s Badung Regency to be operating without the proper licenses, Koster said on Thursday.

“So what’s being discussed is related to unhealthy practices carried out by tour organizers. There are shops, art shops with licenses or not—some are licensed but the business is different,” Koster explained, as quoted by Tribun Bali.

“Because some I found unlicensed, I’ve made the firm decision to close the businesses which are carrying out this unhealthy practice because they have had a negative impact on Bali tourism as a whole,” Koster added.

The governor says he’s not concerned about this possibly causing a decline in Chinese tourists coming to Bali.

“Later they will self-select. There are many who love Bali. We hope that the people who come to Bali are orderly, maintain the image of tourism, and respect the local wisdom, traditions, and culture of Bali,” Koster said.

Chinese tourists aren’t going away—China is Bali’s biggest source of foreign tourists—but the “quality” of traveler needs to be higher, reiterated Rai Surya Wijaya, head of the Badung division of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI).

“We believe that Bali still needs qualified Chinese tourists, with no one violating the existing rules. The rules must be enforced, so law enforcement is important,” Wijaya said, echoing Koster.

The Chinese market has huge potential, with a population of 1.5 billion, but Bali just hasn’t been reaping the benefits, as the bulk of tourists come on cheap tour packages and actually even pay for their trips using payment systems in China, Wijaya added.

Bali’s got to target the upper middle class, he said, putting it bluntly.

“Don’t let Bali become a cheap destination,” Wijaya said.

It’s not just about the money coming into Bali, but the impact that tourists have on the local community, added I Gede Pitana, Tourism Marketing Development Deputy for the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism.

“What is meant by quality tourists in my opinion is tourists who are able to improve the welfare of the local community without damaging the environment and Balinese culture,” Pitana explained.

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