Not internalized racism: Bali motorbike rental explains why it refused local customer amid controversy

File photo of traffic in Canggu, Bali. Photo: Amahl S. Azwar.
File photo of traffic in Canggu, Bali. Photo: Amahl S. Azwar.

It all began with a simple Twitter thread about hidden gems in Bali.

One user, who goes by the handle @ekristiv, responded to the thread and went off on a tangent as they shared an unpleasant experience they had with a local motorbike rental service. The tweet, which has now been deleted, alleged that the rental only served foreigners.

“Sorry, Kak, we do not rent out to locals,” said the rental via WhatsApp after @ekristiv asked them about vehicle availability. The term “Kak” is an affectionate colloquial greeting meaning big sister or big brother.

Replies and the ensuing conversation from the deleted tweet remain accessible, with some throwing shade at local business owners and accusing them of forgetting that domestic tourists got the island’s tourism industry through the worst of the pandemic.

Others, however, pointed out that many motorbike rental services in Bali simply want to avoid the risk of locals renting their vehicles using fake IDs and running away with the motorbikes.

While foreigners can also commit crime, a Twitter user pointed out that, from the motorbike rentals’ point of view at least, they are easier to track down once immigration authorities get involved.

“A local person can use a fake ID and run away from the island via land route,” said @joenathan_kiat.

Another Twitter user, @ArmadiTarub, said that they always warn foreigners to avoid rentals that only serve foreigners as those businesses may intend to scam or extort.

“Such rentals target foreigners who do not understand local laws,” they claimed.

After some digging, Coconuts Bali met the owner of the motorbike rental in person today. Asking to be referred to only by his initial F, the 50-year-old Balinese man said that he was merely being cautious after three of his motorbikes were stolen in the past few months – all by locals who pretended to be domestic tourists.

It was especially painful for F that two of the vehicles were the premium Yamaha NMAX, while one was a Honda PCX that was gifted to him by his son, who is a police officer.

“The truth is, we don’t really know who is good and who is bad. I thought I was already careful by taking their pictures, checking their IDs, etc. But I still got defrauded,” F told us. 

F said that, based on his experience, foreign customers don’t commit such crimes. 

“Sometimes they will just abandon the motorbikes at the airport, but at least they’re not gone,” F said.

Regardless, F admitted that had his staff communicated the situation clearly and politely from the beginning, instead of abruptly saying “we do not serve locals” to potential customers, the whole brouhaha would have been avoided.

“I already had a meeting with my staff members and prepared a template on how to explain the situation,” he said.

F also lamented how his business was review-bombed with 1-star ratings on Google in the past 24 hours due to the viral tweet.

“So it’s like a series of unfortunate events for me,” F said, adding that Google eventually removed the 1-star ratings.

Another bike rental owner, Ijong, 30, told Coconuts Bali separately that he would not explicitly state his clientele preference to any potential customers. But he conceded that he is generally more careful in dealing with local tourists.

“[I] won’t be a racist,” said Ijong, who prefers to be referred to by his given name only, adding that he knows of other motorbike rental owners who had their two-wheelers stolen by local customers, particularly during the pandemic.

Ijong went on to say that he would verify the identity of any potential local customer, including phoning their hotels to ensure that they are, indeed, tourists. 

That said, Ijong said that he is equally “cautious” when renting motorbikes to foreigners, but he understands why some of his competitors are more careful when dealing with local tourists.

“If there are people who accuse [such] practice as racism, we can’t blame them as well. Actions cause reactions,” he said.

Coconuts Bali also spoke with @ekristiv, who confirmed that they have deleted the tweet, although admittedly was ‘shocked’ by the response at first because the initial Google reviews are great.

“Someone explained and I think it’s reasonable … they (motorbike rentals) are scared that if they rent motorbikes to the locals then it will be stolen,” said @ekristiv.

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