Bali’s China Opportunity Fraught With New Challenges

Chinese Travelers Second-Largest Group In Bali, After Australians

Easy visas and convenient travel have made Bali a tourism hotspot for Chinese tourists

According to BPS, the Indonesian National Department of Statistics, a total of 235,089 Chinese travelers (most of them newcomers) arrived in Bali between January and September of last year. This marked a 31.17 percent increase compared to the same period in 2011. At the moment, Chinese tourists account for 11 percent of all foreign arrivals on the island, and are now the second-largest source of international tourists trailing only Australia.

With an average length of stay of six days and an average daily spend of US$174 per person, Chinese tourists are highly sought after by Bali tour operators and hoteliers. This has been particularly true over the past year, as Balinese tourism authorities have complained of declining per-person spend among Western tourists.

Bali — like other major island destinations such as the Maldives — looks to woo ever more Chinese travelers by promoting its beaches, cultural performances, sport activities and a wide range of accommodations, which include international five-star resorts and private villas.

Currently, the most visited spots in Bali among Chinese tourists include Dreamland Beach, located in the south of the island, seaside temples Uluwatu and Tinah Lot, and the artists village Ubud. While group tours are still the most common form of travel by Chinese visitors to Bali, independent Chinese tourists are on the rise.

The Wonderful Indonesia ad campaign has targeted China

However, as Bali’s hospitality industry has long been oriented towards English-speaking foreign tourists, the island has struggled to adjust to the increase in Chinese visitors, which seemed to come out of nowhere. (A problem even shared by destinations closer to China, such as South Korea.) According to IB Ngurah Wijaya, head of the Bali Tourism Board, there are currently only 766 Mandarin-speaking tour guides on the island. Improving the capacity to cater to Chinese tourists, whether via Chinese-speaking staff or Chinese-language signage, will be crucial for the Balinese economy. Currently, many Chinese tour groups are accompanied by their own guides and operators.

Like hotels and sightseeing hotspots, Bali retailers hope to cash in on the Chinese tourism surge, with the island’s craft and small boutiques looking to woo Chinese visitors as they have Russian and Western travelers. Aside from the island’s traditional arts and crafts, Bali offers little by way of international luxury brands — popular targets for Chinese tourists on overseas jaunts — owing to Indonesia’s high import taxes.

One factor leading the surge in Chinese tourists in Bali over the past several years has been the relative convenience of travel from China to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian hotspots. Flight connections link several cities in mainland China with regional business and travel hubs like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta, and Bali for one has offered visas on arrival for Chinese nationals since 2001.

Ad campaigns in China focus on Bali’s natural beauty as well as investment opportunities

In order to attract even more Chinese visitors, Indonesia has kicked up its promotional activities, with China a key target for the $53.7 million “Wonderful Indonesia” global campaign in 2012. This campaign promoted Indonesia in general, and Bali specifically, as a travel destination while highlighting trade and investment opportunities.

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