IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO
We’ve just had a week of whinges, as Australians call complaints. Politicians, academics and the commentariat have been bemoaning the state of Indonesian-Australian relationships.
There’s been plenty of basa-basi but little frank talk, though to be fair Ati Nurbaiti (13 March) identified the flawed rule of law as an impediment.
Eavesdrop any group of Ockers at Ngurah Rai waiting for their Airbus and the key talking points are personal encounters with petty corruption and cheating. These experiences stick, eclipsing memories of a generous culture, cheap food and great bargains. It’s not a good look.
Nor is Australia’s maintenance of travel warnings. Anyone going overseas has to watch their wallet. If you can’t follow the news and keep your nose out of demos then you shouldn’t be in charge of a passport. Do Australians really need the nanny state to tell them to take care?
If it came to a toss-up between getting lost after dark in Surabaya’s Dolly, full of pimps, prostitutes and drunks, or Perth’s Northbridge nightlife district with its heavy police presence, then I’d prefer the East Java capital’s sleaze center anytime.
(And just for the record, my experiences in Dolly have been purely for journalistic research.)
There’s one simple way for us to get to know each other better. Make travel easier. Compare Indonesia’s visa-on-arrival (US $25 = Rp 230,000) with Australia’s pre-departure 14-page application form and AUD $105 (Rp 880,000) fee.
Australia allows Malaysians, but not Indonesians, to apply for visas on line. The cost: AUD $20 (Rp 168,000).
Apart from the easier visa system, Indonesian tourism is the pits. Despite an army of uninformed government tourism officials, lots of silly slogans and fatuous promotions, Indonesia can’t hold a candle to its nearest rivals.
Tiny sterile Singapore attracts twice as many tourists as this extraordinary archipelago, while uptight Malaysia doubles that again. The figures prove my case.
Tourism is a highly competitive mega business in Australia and the rest of the West. It’s powered by agents who really know their stuff. They’re licensed, work in comfortable brightly lit offices in shopping malls and enthusiastically offer holidays almost everywhere in the world.
Want to compare prices? Have a big glossy brochure in flawless English, thick with details of flights and special hotel deals. Free? Of course. Morocco or Manhattan? The Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids? No problems. How about a cruise? North, South, East or West? You choose.
Want a recommendation? Ask anything, the chances are the staff have been there and can give you the good oil, which in Ozspeak means the right information.
Compare this with the travel agents in Indonesia. The ones I have to deal with in Indonesia work in musty rooms with 15 watt lighting. They print out schedules using machines with so little ink it’s almost impossible to read dates and times.
So no wonder our favorite consultant missed her freebie flight to Singapore sponsored by an airline so she could be better informed of her product. She misread her own ticket.
Why pick Indonesia? Tour wholesalers overseas do a good job with Bali, but ignore the rest of the country. Want to know why? Take a look at the quality of some of the official websites, like that for Surabaya’s Tourism Promotion Board (www.sparklingsurabaya.com). Get ready for a gigglethon, like this encouragement for visitors to go shopping:
Not many really enthusiastic of it, but antiques bussiness have never decline. However, this bussiness needs time to make money. More old the antiques, more money we can get. It is also happened in Surabaya. Mostly start from hobby.
More serious was the site’s advertised exchange of 1 US dollar to 6,605 rupiah when this newspaper was quoting 9,231. Hardly a great invite to take the next plane to Juanda.
In blunt terms, terus terang, Indonesian tourism has to lift its game.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono highlighted the large numbers of Indonesians studying in Australia, Sorry Sir; these people are not a representative sample. Most are ethnic Chinese and the pampered sons and daughters of top officials who can afford the high fees.
The people who should really be studying in Australia for the greatest impact on their return are the smart young Javanese with brains but no cash. Then they could pass on the skills they’ve learned to their colleagues.
At the moment Australia offers just a handful of post-graduate scholarships. It could and should do much more.
So could Indonesia. The working holiday visa scheme for 18 to 30 year olds, included in last year’s Free Trade Agreements between Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand is still in its early stages.
The dogs are barking that RI officials fear this reciprocal deal will mean Indonesia will be swamped by young Westerners taking jobs from the locals.
What nonsense. Can you imagine Aussie students wanting to be satpam (security guards) or rubbish pickers for Rp 500,000 (US $55) a month? The only jobs they might do would be as English teachers – though the Ozzie twang might deter many school principals.
The scheme has let tens of thousands of young people from most European countries, Japan and elsewhere visit Australia and supplement their stay by taking short-term jobs. They get to boost their English and their wallets while learning about the customs, values and idiosyncrasies of their host country.
If Indonesians join the throng then people like me might no longer be confronted by angry young men tugging their wispy beards, like those who heckled a lecture I gave at an Islamic institution.
“Your country is evil,” they said, “it allows free sex.”
Had they ever been to Australia? “No,” they said, “but we know what you do.”
An isolated example of SBY’s ‘preposterous caricatures’? I wish. But little different from the Ockers who swear they’ll never visit Indonesia, but holiday every year in Bali.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 18 March 2010)