Nobody Honks in Bali - Lessons for Indian Tourism - Vivek Kaul's Diary
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Nobody Honks in Bali - Lessons for Indian Tourism

Oct 17, 2017


I recently spent a week in the island of Bali and was left really impressed with it. As soon as the taxi left the airport and moved slowly towards our hotel, which was around six kilometres away, I felt something wasn't right.

There was bumper to bumper traffic leaving the airport, on a bright and sunny but a slightly humid day. The cars were all moving in their lanes, without trying to criss-cross each other. The only noise (if I can call it that) was the humming of the car AC.

I reached the hotel around 45 minutes later. It was only then that I realised why the drive had seemed almost surreal. Despite, slow moving bumper to bumper traffic, which took us three-fourths of an hour to move six kilometres, nobody was honking.

Yes, I barely heard anyone honk in the 45 minutes it took us to reach the hotel from the airport. And this is something that became even more obvious over the next seven days I spent on this Indonesian island - nobody honks in Bali.

Of course, living in Mumbai and visiting Delhi often, this seemed totally unbelievable. But that is how it turned out to be. And that is not the only thing that I was left impressed with.

The island of Bali has a total area of around 5,780 square kilometres. This is 0.18 per cent of India's total area. Or to put it in more representative terms, it is slightly bigger than the smallest Indian state of Goa (3,702 square kilometres).

In 2016, 4.9 million foreign tourists came to the island. This number has constantly been increasing. In 2008, 2 million tourists had come to the island. This basically implies an increase of 11.9 per cent per year on an average.

Where do you think the number of foreign tourists coming to India stands at? Take a guess. India is more than 500 times bigger than Bali (569 times to very precise). So, how many more tourists does it get?

The annual report of the ministry of tourism suggests that in 2016 8.9 million foreign tourists came visiting. This is not even double that of Bali, an island which is just a little bigger than the smallest Indian state.

In 2008, 5.3 million foreign tourists had come to India. As mentioned earlier, 8.9 million foreign tourists came to India in 2016. This implies an increase of 6.7 per year, on an average.

What these data points tell us is that India does not get many foreign tourists relative to its size, but Bali does. One of the important reasons for this lies in the fact that Bali is very close to the Western part of Australia. In fact, it takes more or less the same time to fly from Perth in Western Australia to Denpasar (the capital of Bali), that it takes to fly from Perth to Melbourne.

Given this short travel distance, and the famed love of the Aussies for surfing, keeps attracting them to Bali. In fact, in 2016, more than a million Aussies came visiting. But this is expected to change in 2017, with the number of Chinese tourists expected to outnumber the number of Aussies.

So, what is it that makes Bali an attractive tourist attraction? And what is it that India can learn from this small island, and implement. I need to state upfront that I am not an expert on tourism in different parts of the world. Hence, this is more of a summary of what I saw and felt, in the week that I spent on the island.

1) First and foremost, no visa is required to enter Bali, if you are planning to stay for a period of up to 30 days. This basically means you can just get up and go to Bali, whenever you feel like.

2) The entry into Bali, after landing at the Denpasar Airport, in my case, was very quick. The same is really not true about many Indian airports, especially Goa. The Goa Airport at Dabolim is an absolute nightmare, both ways, while arriving as well as departing. And the sad part is that it is a new airport.

3) The look and feel of Denpasar Airport is very international. This is something that India is catching in on. Even smaller airports like Mangalore, Kozhikode and Visakhapatnam, have a good international feel to them. Airports create the first impression about any country, and they need to look good and clean, and work efficiently.

4) In my seven-day stay I rarely got a feeling that a local Balinese was trying to rip me off. This is a feeling that I get almost every time I go to Goa. Having said this, one does have to be careful even in Bali especially while exchanging currency. Given that the Indonesian rupiah is a weak currency, while exchanging dollars into rupiahs, some shops have a tendency to give an amount which is lesser than what they really should. Of course, some amount of haggling while buying something is always good, like at any other tourist destination.

5) The island is extremely clean and that's not just because of the local government, it is also because the local people like to keep it clean. Even the roadside shops constantly keep cleaning their surroundings and they don't litter. Bali is extremely swacch and there is thing or two cities or states in India, which want to promote themselves as tourist destinations need to learn from it.

6) Bali has all kinds of hotels, from the ones offering super-luxury to basic reasonably priced budget hotels. This is a huge problem in India. We either have big luxury hotels or very small ones trying to rip-off customers. There is nothing (or very few) hotels that come in between. Also, restaurants cater to all kinds of clientele. Having said that food in Bali is cheaper than it is in places like Goa and touristy parts of Kerala, in India.

Picture 1

7) While most of Bali is extremely beautiful, there are (as expected) a few places which are not as beautiful as the others. But even in these cases, there are things that the local authorities have tried to do to make the visits of the tourists to these places memorable. Take the case of the Candidasa beach. It is a reasonably good beach but nowhere as good as some of the other beaches like the Virgin Beach, the Blue Lagoon Beach or the beaches of Nusa Dua. If you look at Picture 1, a heart like structure has been placed close to the sea at the Candidasa beach, and people simply love coming and taking pictures in front of it.

What this tells us is that some thought has gone into making a reasonably good tourist destination into a great one. This is a point that Indians really need to learn.

8) Also, some thought has gone into what tourists really want. Whether this has come just from the initiative of local people or the local government, I really don't know. Take the case of surfing. The Aussies love to surf. And there is great infrastructure available for anyone who wants to surf. From shops that provide surfing boards on rent to surfing instructors, everything is available very close to the beaches.

Another great example is that of terrace cultivation (see Picture 2 on the next page), which has been turned into a huge tourist attraction. Having grown up in Ranchi (in the Chotanagpur plateau), I have seen such modes of cultivation, but never thought it could become a huge tourist attraction. Apparently, and this is from what the driver who drove me around Bali, told me, the Aussies love it.

9) Bali also has a huge number of beautiful Hindu temples. One needs to wear a sarong while entering these temples, or the legs need to be decently covered (So you can go in if you are wearing a pair of trousers or salwar kameez, but not if you are wearing a pair of shorts or a skirt for that matter). To make it convenient for the tourists, sarongs are available at the temples for free or at a nominal fee. Hence, while local sentiments regarding the culture are not hurt, the tourists not carrying their own sarongs, are not turned away as well.

Picture 2

10) The roads in Bali are simply superb. The beaches are very clean. And there is a happening night life. Night life is one point where India really loses out on. Even our big cities barely have any night life, other than restaurants which stay open till midnight. Tourists visiting India have to simply stay in their hotel rooms once it's dark.

In fact, the entire attitude of the bureaucratic establishment in India is that anyone wanting to go out at night, wants to create trouble. How do you go about changing anything like that?

11) The rates of entry to most historical monuments are very reasonable. I paid around 20,000 rupiah (around Rs 100) on an average to enter historical monuments. In India, a foreigner needs to pay Rs 1,000 to enter the Taj Mahal in Agra. And this leads to a lot of needless disputes, in establishing who is an Indian and who is not.

Some of my relatives who have gone to Taj Mahal have been stopped because people issuing tickets thought they are foreigners. They have then had to answer questions like who is the chief minister of Delhi, to prove that they are Indians. Even the author Ruskin Bond, had to pay foreign rates to enter Taj Mahal. He is as Indian as anyone can get.

At the end of the day, how much does the government actually make through getting foreigners to pay extra? Is it really worth the trouble? I don't think so.

There is no rocket science in the things that I have listed above. They are as basic as things can get. But these are some of the things that cities and states in India looking to promote tourism can do. A couple of cities which I think have some infrastructure already to do this are Mangalore and Visakhapatnam.

Visakhapatnam has some fantastic beaches (though not very clean) just outside the city. It is a very clean city (in fact the cleanest Indian city I have ever been to in recent years). It also has several other tourist attractions and good eating places. And it has the capacity to become another Goa (of course that would also mean lowering taxes on alcohol, something our politicians are not comfortable with). Now only if the local government could get things going.

Tourism has great potential to create jobs. Also, it needs minimum investment from the government though the governments needs to promote it and get things going initially.

Vivek Kaul is the Editor of the Diary. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. The books were bestsellers on Amazon. His latest book is India's Big Government - The Intrusive State and How It is Hurting Us.

Disclaimer: The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Equitymaster do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site.

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10 Responses to "Nobody Honks in Bali - Lessons for Indian Tourism"

Bapoo M Malcolm

Oct 31, 2017

Last month a young man, who had studied abroad, drove us from Igatpuri To Nashik. I asked him whether he drove a car in the UK. He said he had. And why did I ask? Because he did not honk even once over the 30 odd kms.


Yudhvir Talwar

Oct 22, 2017

I know many Indian Americans / NRI who wish to visit India more often but refrain due to excessive pollution, bad traffic and unclean environment. Govt and people of India must involve themselves and we would get many more tourist / visitors. Good for our economy.



Oct 17, 2017

Dear Mr Kaul,
Though not exhaustive the article
well explains about the great
Potential India has if developed
Properly.Thought provoking
Thanking you,

Like (1)


Oct 17, 2017

Dear Vivek,As usual your article is good & to the point.Only thing is nothing is new in this , either to public or to the govt bodies. All our ministers and beurocrats are well travelled who combine pleasure with work, in this case study those countries etc etc.But when it comes to implementation, whether in Cleanliness in general or water bodies in particular, whether in spreading yoga , whether in highlighting oldest places in the world , like Varanasi, they all look at only one man , who alone is capable of moving this vast nation , ie our revered PM.Obviously Modiji can get started , but then they expect him to carry on & on.This cannot happen , so things do not go further.Why tourism , everything suffers.

Like (1)

Bansi Kaul

Oct 17, 2017

Dear Vivek,
"Nobody honks in Bali" is an excellent description of your visit.You have created a word picture and feel that I have been already there.
Yes India needs to learn a lesson or two from such a tiny island in the matter of tourism. Unfortunately a number of things you have mentioned discourage tourists from visiting India. We have earned a bad reputation as a result of poor infrastructure, unhygienic conditions, cheating and many cases of sex related incidents like molestations a and rapes. The govt. needs to look into these urgently. Tourism is a great revenue earner and job creating industry.

Like (1)


Oct 17, 2017

You are absolutely right and timely when India is struggling to create jobs for our youth. We all citizens, Bureaucracy, Politicians and Govt. all need change in approach if we have to boost Tourism as major industry for inbound foreigners. While infrastructure creation needs investment and Govt., softer part plays a bigger role to attract tourist if local people realise the potential.

We probably need couple of hit films around tourism, publicize a few local success stories and few States who are keen like Kerala, Goa, Orissa make tourism their primary industry. Current improvement in our roads, airports, swatch Bharat drive will all fillip to the drive.
I request you to publish your piece in Hindi newspaper to give more coverage

Like (1)


Oct 17, 2017

9495234045. These are points any responsible authority should attend and take steps for immediate correction if they need to help people beyond the words they very often hammer on the people.

Like (1)

Brijesh Gupta

Oct 17, 2017

Hi Vivek,

Just now I have read your article for Bali trip. I work in Indonesia as expatriate and had chances to visit Bali before.

While your comment that forigner tourist charges to enter historical sight in India are high while in Indonesia it is less is completely wrong. Consider Taj Mahal as historical sight and one of wonder of world; Rs.1000/- is nothing for foreigner tourist. In Indonesia all sight charge are min Rs.100/-; out of that some sights are worthless. For good sight like when you go towards Mount Agung or any other volcano etc charges are equialent to Rs.1500/- or more.

Many temples they have and entering charge is around Rs.100/- to Rs.500/-. Now compare it to India where anyone can enter temple free of cost.

The only positive about Bali is it's open culture and of course beaches. Compare to India where we have closed society and safety issue for females. Once Indian develop themself then we can grow as well. We have outstanding historical sights; govt needs to promote these to attract tourist.

Consider it just as comment. I am a follower of your all articles.


Like (1)

Sriram R

Oct 17, 2017

Sir, you have nicely highlighted the weakness of Indian tourism. Rest assured this will stay like this only. Given the type of administrators and politicians we have who handle these, it is better to go to places like Bali and Singapore. Forget it..India cannot achieve anything like these countries.

Like (1)


Oct 17, 2017

Dear Mr Vivek,
It is indeed an excellent article on tourism.
First of all, we Indians, why we are going to some foreign countries to relax.enjoy ?
What we expect/need to relax = most of the tourist destinations in India -it is not available.
Many countries like Singapore,Indonesia, Thailand, many European countries are well taking care of tourists.
Our bureaucratic government system is yet to evolve in these aspects ... For eg.. many of parts of India is not having proper roads to enjoy the beauty of our own country. As usual, I pray God "Let good things happen"

Like (1)
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