Bali is a destination that caters to every kind of tourism. From solo backpackers to honeymoon couples, from families to big groups of friends — Bali has something for everyone.
As the island continues to welcome hundreds of thousands of tourists every month, group tours are becoming increasingly popular.
Group tour travel experiences have an equally varied style and price, catering to tourists from all over the world, with every different interest and, most significantly, every kind of budget.
As travel companies in Bali are still recovering from the impacts of the pandemic, every booking counts. This has led some travel operators to offer hotels, restaurants, shops, and attractions a strategy called ‘selling heads’ in order to secure big group visits.
The notion of ‘selling heads’ means guaranteeing a certain number of visitors to a venue in return for a commission or a percentage cut of sales.
The selling heads strategy then becomes a buying and selling game between small, medium, and large tour and travel companies both within Bali and internationally.
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The strategy is generally carried out with big groups of tourists on organized tours. The tourism industry in Bali considers this to be foul play.
Not only does it make an unfair playing field for the industry. While giving a commission is a normal part of doing business, what selling heads guarantees is that tourists won’t be allowed to shop or visit other places.
This, in turn, impacts their experience of the island. It’s also not uncommon for the tourists involved in a selling heads strategy to feel under pressure to buy products or say yes to added extra costs they would have otherwise avoided.
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The Chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (ASITA) in Bali, Putu Winastra, said that ASITA does not supervise agents who buy and sell heads.
Winastra spoke to reporters this week and specifically explored why the selling heads model has a negative impact on the handicraft and arts industry in Bali.
Leaders on the island are keen to promote Balinese cultural products, arts, and handicrafts to tourists by way of promoting and preserving local culture and supporting cottage industries.
For the most part, when the selling heads strategy is employed, tourists are ushered to shops, attractions, and hotels that do not directly support the local economy.
Winastra said, “It is suspected that foreign tourists are also forced to come to shops that have nothing to do with Balinese MSME handicrafts.”
Previously leaders have spoken about how the selling head strategy has been used to encourage tourism from China, though the technique has been used with tour groups from around the world.
Yet, while much of Bali’s tourism sector feels that selling heads is bad practice, some local politicians don’t see the harm.
The Chairman of Commission II DPRD Bali IGK, Kresna Budi, said he feels there is great potential in the strategy if it is used ethically.
He explained, “In my view, buying and selling heads is one of the strategies of a travel agency to bring in tourists. So hopefully, this strategy will have a good impact on Bali.”
“So far, if there is a Chinese [owned] business, there are only one and two [taking part]. The problem with the strategy is buying and selling heads to Bali back to each tourism actor. Just like there are tourism discounts and selling hotel rooms cheaper.”
Meanwhile, Bali’s Civil Service have confirmed that they have not been taking any chances and have taken assertive action against tour operators and shops suspected of buying and selling heads.
While they do not have permission to close shops taking part in the strategy, they have been investigating license permits and operating practices.
The Head of the Bali Saptol PP, Dewa Nyoman Rai Dharmadi, explained to reporters, “We don’t necessarily close immediately. We make sure that the activities are there and any merchandise sold there should not be in accordance with business regulations.”