Lifestyle Bali's ban on single-use plastics and new US$10 tax for foreign tourists

Bali’s ban on single-use plastics and new US$10 tax for foreign tourists

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One of the most sought-after holiday destinations in Southeast Asia for foreign tourists, Bali is known for fun in the sun, sand and surf, gorgeous diving and snorkelling, and don’t forget the wild parties! Indonesia’s volcanic island relies on tourism as its main industry, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
What have been weighing it down are growing environmental problems, which include the outrageous amounts of plastic and trash that the entire island has produced. Bali declared a ban on all single-use plastics on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018, and has since drafted a bylaw on getting tourists to contribute to environmental and cultural preservation by imposing a US$10 (S$13.60) per person tax on all foreign tourists.

In 2017, 5.7 million foreign tourists visited Bali, the majority from China and Australia. The 2018 number was expected to go over 6 million, as the island province played host to international events, including the Annual Meetings of the IMF-World Bank.

That’s a lot of people. And people produce trash. According to the Bali Environment Agency, Bali generates an astounding 3,800 tons of waste every single day, and of the total, only 60 percent get thrown in landfills. Everything else goes everywhere else, including the ocean. Bali’s marine life has suffered because of it, and as its marine life is one of its biggest tourist pulls, the island has paid the damage.

But it’s not just about the tourism industry. It’s about the preservation of environment and culture, which Bali has now made a priority.

The ban on single-use plastics, which included straws, styrofoam containers, and shopping bags, was declared on December 24 of last year. The enforcement of the ban is expected to lead to a big decrease, around 70 percent over the next year, in the presence of plastics in Bali’s marine environment.

The new US$10 levy on foreign tourists will certainly contribute to the preservation Bali’s natural environment.
Bali Governor Wayan Koster spoke about the revenue from the tourist tax at the Bali Legislative Council, which he said would be solely allotted to funding programs on safeguarding the environment and Balinese culture.

“This will give us better fiscal space to support the development of Bali,” Koster said, adding that tourists “will understand” the fee. “They will be happy to pay it as it will be used to strengthen our environment and culture,” he said.

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Koster said the policy is directed only toward foreign tourists, not domestic tourists, as the central government has named Bali as the pilot project on a waste management system in a tourist destination.

“Most foreigners come to Bali for a holiday, local tourists only come to visit their family, have meetings or for their institution’s events,” he said, noting that the levy was still being discussed and methods of collection deliberated upon.

Some ideas for collection of the tax, which is supported by local leaders, are inclusion in airline tickets or payment at designated airport counters. The first has been cited as more feasible.

“Contributions from tourists are needed to help us preserve our environment and culture. Tourists come to enjoy our environment and culture. Why not contribute to preserving it?” said Bali Legislative Council Speaker I Nyoman Adi Wiryatama of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).

Ida Bagus Purwa Sidemen, the executive director of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association, said the group also felt certain that the new tax would not deter tourists from visiting Bali.

Sidemen said that as long as the tax is used for preserving environment and culture, tourist visits would not decrease. But if there is no real plan or programme in place to execute the bylaw, tourists may feel “disappointed and it would lead to a decrease in tourist arrivals”.

Chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies Bali chapter Ketut Ardana also expressed support of the plan, saying that tourists would not mind paying the levy.

“Actually, it has been discussed in Bali for a long time. If it could be implemented now, that would be really good,” Ardana said, adding that US$10 is not an exorbitant amount to fork out.

Udayana University tourism expert Ida Bagus Puja Astawa noted that “most foreign tourists think it is necessary to preserve nature”, citing a 2015 study, which found that 60 percent of foreign tourists were willing to pay for the preservation of nature and culture.

Bali follows in the footsteps of other tourist destinations that have imposed similar taxes, like Japan, who just this 2019 has begun to collect “the sayonara tax”, a departure tax of 1,000 yen (US$9.10, S$12.37). In Japan’s case, both local and foreign travelers leaving the country by plane or ship are subject to paying the levy.

Bali’s big moves should usher in drastic environmental changes, as long as they are planned out and followed through properly.

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