Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

30 May, 2005

Indonesia Faces Tourism Backlash From Aussies Upset by Drug Verdict

Travel and tourism relations between Indonesia and Australia appeared set to take another hit following the guilty verdict against 27-year-old beauty therapist Schapelle Corby by a Bali court last week.

An outpouring of emotional reaction against the verdict included several callers to radio talk-shows and website public comments indicating that they “will never travel to Bali,” along with demands for Indonesia to return the money contributed to the tsunami victims.

However, there were a few contrarian views from other readers who urged Australians to “Get Real! Drug dealers don’t look like drug dealers these days…open your eyes.”

Australian arrivals to Indonesia are already in crisis, down from 531,211 in 1999 to 346,245 in 2002, the year of the Bali bombing and still further to 268,538 in 2003, the SARS year. Figures for 2004 were not immediately available but competing destinations like Fiji, the South Pacific and even Phuket have benefited from the swing.

Bali is also Indonesia’s most important holiday destination. In 2003, foreign visitors to Indonesia by point of entry totalled 1,054,143 to Bali as against 921,737 to the main capital of Jakarta.

The guilty verdict and 20-year jail sentence against Ms Corby angered many Australians.

Reported the Melbourne Age, “Since her arrest in Bali in October, Corby’s plight has spawned something of a crusade. Documented by a true media circus, it has galvanised public opinion, strained relations with Indonesia, stirred racist sentiment and brought harsh scrutiny of her family and supporters.”

The Age reported one travel agent calling into an Australian Broadcasting Corporation talkshow and saying that she would dissuade the public from going to Bali. “As a travel agent, I am going to take a stand . . . I have already ripped down every single thing relating to Bali,” she said. “There are plenty of other places to go.”

However, the Age also quoted Flight Centre executive general manager (product) Paul Scurrah as saying he expected the impact to be minimal. “Bali is a resilient destination, particularly through recent history. Any downturn is usually short term,” he said.

Among the general public, media websites were flooded with responses indicating a travel backlash. Some typical samples:

<> “I’m glad I enjoyed a holiday to Bali in 1997 because there is no way I’ll travel there again. It’s just not worth the risk.”

<> “I will never go to Indonesia ever again. All Australians have given everything to the Indonesians and this is what we get in return. Thanks Indonesia, the Balinese are the ones that will suffer. I just hope that Schapelle knows that the Australian public knows that she is innocent.”

<> “I will never travel to Indonesia. What happened to Schapelle could have happened to anyone of us. All Australians should boycott Indonesia as a form of protest.”

One thing the case did is to make travellers more aware about the risks of unsecured baggage.

Said one respondent, “I remember the day when I had items stolen out of my luggage while flying overseas and thinking ‘If they can take things out of my luggage what can (they) put in’. I travel to Indonesia for business a lot but now I make sure I only have carry on luggage. Your luggage is not safe!”

Said another, “I will never travel without my luggage being with me at all times. My days of checked baggage are over.”

Asian law professor Tim Lindsey, director of the Asian Law Centre at the University of Melbourne, warned that the Australian public’s reaction could affect the image of Australians in Asia.

In an opinion piece in the Melbourne Age, Prof Lindsey wrote, “What Australia is seeing here is a sort of counter-version of what happened to Lindy Chamberlain (first convicted, later quashed, of murdering her nine-week-old daughter in the infamous ‘dingo baby’ case between 1982-88), a popular emotional prejudgement as to a person’s guilt or innocence that creates a political storm and leaves little room for the law to take its course, even if distorted by political pressure.

“In the process, rationality begins to suffer; so does policy and, in this case, our image in the region.”

He said “double standards” about issues like the death penalty in Asian drug cases “feed South-East Asian anxieties about neo-colonial, arrogant and racist attitudes in Australia and perceptions that we are the insular and xenophobic white tribe of Asia.

“There is a lesson to be learnt from this: what happens in Indonesia directly affects Australians. Whether it is war, terrorism, trials or tsunamis, Australians will always be part of what happens to our near north.

“It is time we focused more on building links, on repairing the catastrophic decline in Indonesian studies and language skills in Australia and engaging, rather than demonising and shunning, a neighbour, just because it has an Australian on trial,” Prof Lindsey suggested.

Comments are closed.