Business / Economy

COMMENTARY: Tourism, all San Benito County needs to know from Bali

Tourism industry inspired this article for those in San Benito County and San Juan Bautista

Tod and Barrie duBois are spending six weeks in Indonesia and Malaysia, the first four weeks being spent in Bali. The experience in seeing the amazing tourism industry inspired this article for those in San Benito County and San Juan Bautista and their desires to have a tourist economy.

Over the last few weeks during our stay in Bali, Indonesia, I learned so much about tourism. Even owning a 5-star rated vacation rental, I remain amazed by the excellence in tourism in Bali. Below are hopefully some entertaining and poignant lessons. Poverty has been wiped out and the percentage of poor people living in Bali continues to decline.

A little history of tourism in Bali: Some believe that the origin of tourism in Bali started with a Dutch photographer who did a photo shoot of native peoples working in the tall rice fields, no shirt, no shoes, only smiles. But that is way back the near term reality is growth of 10x per decade. By 1975 there were more than 100 locally owned hotels and 27 restaurants compared to two and none, respectively, in 1970. There are currently more than 3,300 hotels in Bali and more under construction. More than a quarter of the population are employed in the tourism industry.

For tourism, more gods are better than one – since gods, stories, myths and such have entertainment value they have more gods, temples, myths, legends, stories, embellishments, and misspellings that entertain than anywhere else on the planet. Every home has at least three temples and each village has at least three temples, each god has multiple manifestations, so one gets an exponentially growing number of gods, stories of gods and places to see. Pure entertainment! And in reality these are all just different manifestations of one god – amazing!

Can we make our farmers, shop keepers, and local people entertainers? Everyone you meet in Bali from the taxi drivers and maids to multi hotel owner’s great you well dressed and with a smile. Everyone dances and sings, festivals every two to three days! They say hello right away, even a construction worker sifting sand for concrete will say hello as you walk by. Can everyone in San Juan Bautista be happy and friendly all the time to everyone? Is tourism not a form of entertainment?

Integrating formula business is good – conveniences are key for tourists and so is art so you have lots of both here. The center of the cultural capital Ubud has a 24-hour mini-marts right next to the art galleries so you can get a drink, be comfortable and shop more – genius! Chains like the Four Seasons, Polo, Starbucks, Circle K, Mini-marts of several flavors and designer shops all sit together focused on making the tourist happy adding convenience and familiar comforts. A comfortable tourist is a spending tourist. The proof is here that it can work and it does work.  

Logistics in excess is good; while walking in Ubud one hears constantly “Taxi?” to the point where they sell T-shirts with the classic crossed circle and the word "taxi" in the middle – in other words, no I don’t want a frickin' taxi!  That said, service everywhere and in plenty – getting around without a car is not an issue in Bali.

Quick Facts:

Land area: San Benito County – 1,391 square miles; population 56,884

Land area: Bali – 2,174 square miles; population 4,225,384

Bali is one and a half times as large and San Benito County and the population is 74 times as large with no poverty!

Unlike other industrial activities, tourism generates income by importing clients rather than exporting its product. Ag tourism integration is possible in Bali as villas, hotels and restaurants are in the rice paddies all over. Food is very inexpensive here but wine is expensive, the opposite in SBC!

Conclusions (mine and Australian analysts)

Tourism is entertainment – if SBC and SJB want to be tourist centers, then they must understand they are in the entertainment business, everyone must sing, dance and be friendly. “Monied” tourists want convenience and adventure – that means both formula businesses they know and dance shows they don’t. Fruits and vegetable experiences that bring adventure to the pallet but also soda and Starbucks when they want the comforts of home.  

Tourism and controlled growth are not compatible – if we consider Bali as a success example then we must conclude that going from 30 to 3,300 plus hotels in roughly 30 years is not slow or planned growth. Even if we say that USA productivity is four times that of Bali, that would still mean more than 25 hotels per year built in San Benito County over the next 30 years – is that commercial zoned land in our General Plan?  

Tourism may or may not be environmentally sustainable – again, if we assume a 4-times productivity delta between USA and Indonesia it would still mean to compete with Bali we would need a population of approximately one million in San Benito County and close to 1,000 hotels and of course several thousand restaurants all within 30 years. Is that in our General Plan?

So if you really want tourism to be an economic engine in San Juan or SBC – do your homework, in this global economy the competition is fierce. To be rid of poverty and have happy people then we shoot for hundreds of hotels and thousands of restaurants – or we can just talk about it and keep our poverty. 

BenitoLink Staff