Officials in Bali have defended the decision to introduce a ‘retribution fee’ for tourists wishing to go snorkeling and scuba diving in the Nusa Penida Marine Protection Area.
The new fee, which was introduced over the weekend, has been met with backlash online and on the islands by tour operators.
Many tour operators have claimed that they knew nothing of the newly introduced ‘retribution fee’ before it was introduced.
Tour operators who offer diving and snorkeling tours around the islands of Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan spoke out about the introduction of the IDR 100,000 (USD 6.50) fee.
Many claims that the fee was not socialized prior to it being bought into effect. Officials, however, have released statements revealing their side of the story.
The Head of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Service for Bali, Putu Sumardiana, confirmed that the new ‘retribution fee’ for international tourists has been introduced in alignment with the Regional Regulation of the Province of Bali Number 7 of 2021 concerning Business Service Retribution.
Sumardiana said that he and his teams have been communicating plans to introduce the snorkeling and diving fee since January 2023.
Sumardiana said, “It’s actually been in effect for a long time. Since January, I have been socializing through print and electronic media, including in a circular that will be implemented soon. We don’t apply it arbitrarily because we need to see changes in the field.”
According to Sumardiana, he and his team’s efforts had been sufficient to introduce the new fee over the weekend.
He told reporters that he felt businesses, operators, and tourism service providers all had six months to get up to speed with the proposed changes.
Sumardiana said that the socialization had happened in both Bahasa Indonesia and in English.
Though tour operators like I Wayan Yudiarta and even Balinese entrepreneur, social justice advocate, and community leader Ni Luh Djelantik say otherwise.
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Both Yudiarta and Djelantik have raised concerns about the transparency of how the new fees would be used by the authorities.
Sumardiana has announced that the fees will be used to fund conservation efforts in the Nusa Penida Marine Protection Area, and an e-ticketing system will be in place from morning forward to track digital sales.
Sumardiana said, “We have [plans to] use e-ticketing, but the problem is back signal in the field. Then we used manual ticketing.”
He continued to say that the fee is only applicable to tourists who wish to enter the Nusa Penida Marine Protection Area.
Sumardiana added, “The point is that we keep this conservation area in good condition and so on. There should not be a case like in Bunaken (Sulawesi) where the coral reef is damaged due to snorkeling or diving; we are responsible for the conservation.”
Sumardiana’s clarifications about the new retribution fee have been backed up by the Head of the Bali Tourism Office, Tjok Bagus Pemayun.
He told reporters that a meeting was held for tourism stakeholders and the Maritime Tourism Entrepreneurs Association in Nusa Penida on the 25th of October, 2022, to discuss the introduction of a new levy.
According to Pemayun, only 28 people turned up.
The new fee is already discouraging tourists from heading out on tours of the Nusa Penida Marine Protection Area.
One video circulating online shows a tour guide trying to explain the new fee to a group of Australian tourists who try to negotiate the tariff down to IDR 100,000 for the whole group and eventually decide not to go on the boat tour.
This a tricky position for everyone; the rules are not yet clear in the public consciousness, and tourists are understandably suspicious of fees increasing without warning.
Yet an IDR 100,000 per person fee is not a cost that tour operators can easily swallow up without incurring sizable losses.
Further discussions are underway between the Ministry of Tourism, the Provincial Government of Bali, tourism stakeholders, and community leaders like Ni Luh Djelantik.
It remains the case that for tourists wishing to conduct boat tours, snorkeling, or diving activities within the Nusa Penida Marine Protection Area that a non-negotiable, government-sanctioned fee of IDR 100,000 per person is in place.
The Nusa Penida Marine Protection Area spans over 20,000 hectares and includes the waters that surround Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan.
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