Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Bali Traveller

Many people have been irresistibly drawn to the island of Bali. Tourism is the number one industry for Bali, and every five minutes jet loads of visitors arrive to experience the tropical dream. The total number of tourists each year reaches almost 3 million.

A disproportionate number of visitors come from Australia, no doubt because of its proximity and the predilection Australians have for sunshine and beaches. Right from the moment they arrive you can discern two particular groups of visitors arriving from Austrralia's fair shores:

The stereotypical Australian “yobbo tourist”, firstly, travels by Qantas. He consumes as much free grog as possible, eats Australian food, and reads the Australian newspaper while en-route. He takes an air-conditioned taxi from the airport, arrives at his air-conditioned hotel or homestay, and enjoys the comforts of a home away from home. He may go out to “Norm’s Pub” and watch some Aussie Rules Football on TV or drink a Fosters Beer.

No matter what environment he may be in, no matter what the local culture is – he will try to ensure that his experience is consistent with what he is used to. He will not want to step outside of his comfort zone – literally. Inevitably, any deviation from what he expects will prove disastrous. He’ll complain about the heat, the food, the locals, and the inconveniences. Then, after he’s arrived home, he’ll tell everyone about the great time he had in Bali!

The Australian “traveller”, on the other hand, will visit another country precisely because he wants to absorb himself in a completely different environment and culture. He will travel Garuda and enjoy the local food, practising the local language with the attendants along the way. He’ll read the Indonesian subtitles of the movies, and continually check his phrase book to make sure his language is up to scratch for when he arrives.

The traveller will walk outside of the airport to find the local transport, and happily drag his backpack on board a local minivan or ‘bemo’. He’ll enjoy the hour it takes to travel 3 kilometres, squashed in with the pigs and the chickens, seeing it as an authentic Indonesian experience. He’ll enthusiastically soak up the sights and smells of the country he is visiting, no matter how unusual they may be. He stays in a local homestay, bravely bearing the hole-in-the-ground toilet and languid ceiling fans, taking time to interact with the local people and learn about their lives. No matter what happens, he’ll enjoy the experience simply because it is a unique experience.

Both the yobbo tourist and the traveller have arrived in the same country. Both have had similar experiences. What sets them apart, however, is their attitudes. It shapes how they see the situation, and how they respond to it. It determines, ultimately, how enjoyable and meaningful their visit will be.