Sharia Tourism In Bali: To Be Or Not To Be?

The recent statement of Sharia Economic Community Chairman Muliaman D. Hadad that Bali is the right destination for developing Sharia tourism followed by the announcement of Kagum Hotels Group to develop properties based  on sharia principles is facing opposition from local Balinese.

The Jakarta Post reported about demonstrations from college students and local people in front of the Bali Legislative Council (DPRD) on Tuesday against the introduction of sharia tourism on the island, where the vast majority of its inhabitants are Hindu.  “Bali is not suited as a sharia tourist destination because it does not fit in with the essence of the locale. Bali has always had its own culture that is recognized worldwide. So there is no need to make any changes,” Ketut Bagus Arjana, the head of the Indonesian Hindu Dharma Student Association, told to Indonesia national news agency Antara.

This prompted Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika to disagree to the idea of developing Sharia tourism on the island, citing fears that it could create potential problems.”I did not agree with it. It will only create problems. Just leave it as it is for now. It has all been going well so far,” he stated to Antara after attending a plenary meeting of the regional legislative assembly on Tuesday.

He pointed out that tourism in Bali has flourished so far. “Let us not think of strange ideas. It will only create problems. The people have lived peacefully under current conditions so far,” he emphasized.

This could become a burning issue for Bali. Having hotels implementing sharia principles is nothing wrong. They are already hotels for niche markets from all-female-traveller-accommodation to gay oriented hotels. Some hotels also target honeymoon couples and consequently ban families with children in their premises.

How big is Bali Muslim market? Of course, the domestic market is dominant with 6.39 million of arrivals last year to the Island. Although they are no travellers data classified by religion, it can be easily assumed that 5 to 5.5 million of these Indonesian local tourists are Muslim.

In its release Kangum Hotels talked about the Middle East market as a major foreign market. It is however rather small in Bali according to direct arrivals to Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar. In 2014, data from Bali Office of Statistiks show that close to 24,000 tourists flew to Bali from the Middle East and Muslim countries in Africa.

Looking at other large predominantly Muslim markets, Malaysian arrivals topped 222,713 last year. However, it can be estimated that only 40% to 50% of this number are Malay. With limited numbers of Muslims coming from Singapore, India and Europe, the foreign Muslim market to Bali could be estimated between 180,00 and 190,000 arrivals per year. This would represent around 5% of 3.73 million total international travellers to the island.

Sharia Economic Community Chairman Muliaman D. Hadad to Antara news agency affirmed that “Bali is fit (for Shariah tourism). So, why not to develop it? Seven million domestic tourists come to Bali in addition to three million foreign tourists. Perhaps there are businessmen here who wish to introduce it in cooperation with the regional government”.

Bali could take its inspiration from other countries in the region such as Thailand or Singapore which are looking at developing Islam-based tourism. Thailand recently won the title of the world’s best Islamic health service tourist destination at an event in Dubai and organized in June a special workshop for Islam travel agencies.

“This is indeed a business opportunity that needs to be tapped. In several cities, Islamic hotels and health service centres have already mushroomed. We have no other intention than to tap the business opportunity. We are talking about religion but also to boost the economy,” he added.

There is certainly an overreaction from Bali governor. Bali government should allow sharia driven hotels but just keep it in limited numbers and avoiding also to have a concentration of sharia-compatible hotels in a single or a few areas to avoid potential ghettoisation. But in-between, its negative standpoint for sharia tourism could potentially be back lashed by an eventual Bali boycott from Muslim travellers…

(Picture: Muslim ladies pictured in Lombok Island near Bali)