Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alcohol in the holiday season

As the holiday season nears, Bali's tourism businesses are asking the government to provide some leeway on alcohol imports following the recent shortages.

As of December, certain products, particularly European ones such as whiskey, vodka and tequila, are still hard to find, even after all the complaints lodged by businesses from the alcohol scarcity of over three months ago.

Reasons behind the sudden shortage remain unclear. Customs officials said there had been no increase in duties on imported alcohol. Some experts blamed tightened bureaucracy.

Several businessmen went so far as to call the shortage part of an effort to weed out European brands to make way for Chinese brands.

Whatever the theory, tourism businessmen said Bali could only end up with the short end of the stick should the alcohol shortage last any longer.

Ngurah Wijaya, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said a prolonged alcohol shortage would pose a "major problem" for the island's tourism industry.

"The government must remember that alcohol products bring in up to 80 percent of Bali's tourism revenue.

"This means the industry is going to experience a major income loss due to this shortage, especially with the ongoing global financial crisis," he said.

He urged the government to provide some leeway, such as making trade deals to allow unrestricted traffic of imported alcohol from certain countries to the island.

"Europe, the United States and Australia remain our most trusted exporters for alcohol, we should be making trade deals with them soon for alcohol," he said.

I Gde Wiratha, chairman of the Bali Chamber of Commerce and Industry who is also the owner of a number of high-class night clubs, said the prolonged shortage showed a lack of government commitment and support of Bali's tourism industry.

"How can the government allow Black Label (a local alcoholic beverage) to sell for up to Rp 1.2 million? How are we supposed to make money? Who will want to spend that much money?" he said.

He criticized the government for allowing this to last through the holidays, calling it a snub to Bali's tourism industry.

"Just imagine, Singaporeans pay three times less than we do here for alcohol. How is that supporting the industry?"

Meanwhile, most restaurants, hotels and bars continue to struggle to supply guests with alcoholic drinks.

Aulianty Fellina, marketing communications manager from the Hard Rock Hotel in Bali, said the hotel was facing a 100 percent price increase in alcoholic drinks due to shortage.

"Right now we don't have a shortage because we have a good stock of alcohol, but I can't say that we won't be affected and we may end up raising prices, although we're still holding to the current prices," she said.

Jeanie Grace, a spokesperson for Sector Bar, said her establishment had also been struggling to find certain beverages, but was encouraged by the opportunity to introduce local drinks.

"Right now we're just looking at the bright side, it's still going to be Christmas, we have a lot of events planned and it's going to be a good time to promote some locally made drinks," she said.