AUSTRALIAN visitors to Bali are worth too much to be granted free entry, with Indonesia again set to backflip on an offer to waive visa entry fees.
Last year, 1.1 million Aussies travelled to Indonesia, and predominantly Bali, generating over $53 million in visa fees alone.
As the biggest source of visitors to Bali, Indonesian politicians believe it would not be in the country’s best interests to forego the money — to the frustration of local tourist operators.
In the Indonesian parliament this week, Gerindra Party politician Wihadi Wiyanto urged the government to cancel the free-visa policy rather than adding more nationalities such as Australia.
“We lose revenue and economic benefits,” said Wihadi. “We have to face the fact that the free-visa policy should not be expanded but revoked.”
Co-ordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Rizal Ramli is still waiting for President Joko Widodo to sign off on the new list of free-visa countries unveiled in December.
At the time he said he hoped that would happen in January, but local tourism operators are losing hope as time passes without the presidential decree.
“People are a bit weary about again having to inform tourists that we have no idea when and if it is happening,” said Cindy Lugten from major tourism portal Bali.com.
“I should imagine a big family would be pleased to save the money.”
Indonesia has previously reneged on announcements Australia would be included in free-visa lists on two occasions, as a result of political tensions and the lack of reciprocal treatment.
The Federal Government’s move last year to offer a multiple entry visa for Indonesian visitors and online applications from 2017 was seen as an olive branch but it may not have gone far enough.
Indonesia Institute President Ross Taylor said Australia still charged a non-refundable visa application fee of $135 for Indonesians, despite the potential growth in the market as more of its 255 million residents move into the middle class.
“You’d think Australia would be bending over backwards to make it easier for Indonesians, but instead we treat them with a degree of suspicion and distrust,” Mr Taylor said.
“Australia is simply not prepared to reach out to Indonesia, to build the relationship. Why should the president be in a hurry to do us a favour?” said Mr Taylor.
He said as one of the few countries where the Australian dollar had held its ground, Indonesia was well placed to attract more visitors in the year ahead.
“Bali now represents even more outstanding value for Australians,” Mr Taylor said.
“I can’t see Indonesia foregoing $50 million in revenue.”
A DFAT spokeswoman said Australia had received no notification from Indonesia about changes to visa entry fees.
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