A trip to Bali is never just about the sights and attractions, it's also about learning the history of the island, its people, and its stories. When a tour guide who takes you around doesn't seem to know much about the place, one ought to question whether or not they're actually equipped to do the job.
The issue of unlicensed guides has long been an issue in Bali, and recent reports suggest that the number of illegal guides from Russia in particular have been on the rise.
According to I Nyoman Nuarta, who heads the Indonesian Tour Guide Association (HPI) in Bali, there has been an increase in illegal Russian guides in Bali from last year.
"Russian nationals have been operating as illegal tour guides for a long time, but we are increasingly seeing more and more of them since last year," Nuarta told Merdeka.
According to data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), there's been an increase in the number of Russian tourists visiting Bali compared to the year before. Data between January and May 2019 showed that nearly 64,000 Russian tourists visited the island, compared to only around 56,000 between the same period in 2018.
The expansion in the Russian market has contributed to the concerns that illegal guides are taking job opportunities from the Balinese.
Illegal guides in Bali
HPI Bali spokesman I Nyoman Suarma told Coconuts Bali that illegal guides are a real issue on the island. He said many foreigners benefit from acquiring working visa as a diving instructor or by working in a travel agency, but later decide to stay in Bali and continue to make a living as a tour guide for citizens from their respective countries.
"The problem of illegal guides is very rampant... they often vilify legal tour guides," Suarma said.
But that's just one part of the problem. Suarma added that many illegal guides don't understand the nuances in Balinese culture or the history and importance of attractions – such as temples – across the island, often skipping those parts entirely or providing inaccurate descriptions when taking tourists around.
HPI Bali's recent report on the rise of illegal tour guides from Russia earned a quick response from the Bali administration, who last week held a meeting to tackle the issue.
"If we don't attend to this matter seriously, it might harm the image of tourism in Bali," Putu Astawa, who is acting head of Bali Tourism Agency, said in a statement.
As reported by state news agency Antara, the government is set to establish a joint task force to tackle the issue of illegal guides.
"As for the solution, we will create a joint task force, which includes a division specific to Russia. The team will also conduct intelligence work on their activities in the hopes it will work as a deterrent," Astawa told Antara.
The government is working closely with HPI Bali to keep track of tour guides operating on the island. Astawa said 15 people were arrested recently for operating as illegal guides, and that authorities will continue to monitor the situation and collect evidence as needed.
Under the 2016 Regional Regulation on tour guides, foreigners are allowed to work as guides in Bali, but they must go through a special training program and obtain a certificate in the arts and culture of Bali.
HPI Bali, for its part, hopes that authorities will ensure that the law will be firmly enforced and that there are efforts to protect the local workforce.
"Especially when it comes to legal tour guides, who are obligated to be certified by the government, while foreigners take away their jobs without proper licenses," Suarma said.