We’ve all done it: come back from a holiday to some exotic locale filled with ideas about moving there permanently to start a business or venture.
But long-term expat entrepreneurs of one popular tourist destination, Bali, suggest hanging out a shingle on the idyllic tropical island is no walk in the park.
Australian-born Asri Kerthyasa moved to Bali in 1977 and subsequently married a Balinese prince. The couple opened a small hotel in Ubud called the Tjetjak Inn in 1978 and initially split their time between Australia and Bali.
“Then in 1995 we knocked it down to build a luxury boutique hotel, Ibah Hotel, before leasing it out in 2006, although we still own it. But after the bombs you really needed a marketing machine behind you.”
Kerthyasa and her son now run a successful café in Seminyak, Biku. “It’s taken off in a big way.”
From the start Kerthyasa had an advantage given her Balinese husband had connections in government and commercial circles that allowed them to operate businesses without having to make facilitation payments. “If you don’t have connections everything is going to cost a lot more.”
She says staffing and navigating the Indonesian bureaucracy are two of the biggest challenges of operating a business in Bali.
“Foreigners who come here also have unrealistic expectations and think they don’t have to follow the rules or pay tax. But you need to follow regulations as you would in any other place.”
Australian-born Made Wijaya who runs a successful interior design and landscaping business P.T.Wijaya Tribwana in Bali has one piece of advice for Australians returning from a holiday to Bali brimming with business ideas: “Noosa’s nice this time of year.”
“Australians have been successful in the building and construction industry here, but not before enduring bitter experiences involving prevailing attitudes regarding fair play and level playing fields. Australian architects and project specialists have helped development. But an influx of unscrupulous real estate developers has contributed to the degradation of the environment and the dumbing-down of the island’s tourism.”
He says the lack of regulations and respect for standard business processes such as AGMs and arbitrary decision-making is rife. “Both feudal and colonial attitudes prevail in Bali – both are foreign to the egalitarian Aussie. But at the same time too many free-range Aussies now choose Bali as a bolt-hole and arrive with shockingly arrogant attitudes.”
“Indonesia is an ancient, complex and rather messy country. Bali’s western-friendliness is real but the government’s ‘open’ policy to foreign businesses on the island is a fairly new post-monetary crisis approach; in many ways they are the patient landlords putting up with us unruly tenants. Any day the policy may change.”
One expat who has made a success of her Balinese business despite the odds is British interior designer Diana von Cranach who purchased undeveloped land in Pemuteran, north-west Bali in 1987. She opened her boutique resort Puri Ganesha in 1997.
“I was the first foreigner to buy a piece of barren beachfront land in Pemuteran. Because of the location, possible investors were not interested – I even contacted and met directors from the Aga Khan’s hotel company. I gave up and forgot about my purchase, thinking it must have been a huge mistake. Then when my husband left me after 22 years of marriage in 1995, I took a one way ticket, a packing case and a suitcase, U$200 and of course the ‘deeds’ to the piece of land I had bought and emigrated to Bali at the age of 48, leaving everything behind.”
von Cranach says setting up a business in Bali was the most difficult experience of her life. “I came as a woman alone, not speaking the language or knowing the rules and regulations for setting up a foreign investment company. Not being able to own land in Indonesia also means that you have to trust the person who holds the titles implicitly. My Balinese husband now owns everything that remains after serious altercations with the people who were my partners from the outset.”
Her advice to other businesses setting up in Bali is to “be extremely careful and try not to trust anyone, no matter how charming they may be. Also be prepared for setbacks, lots of surprises and remember that if you do manage to get through all the trials and tribulations, being able to call Bali your home is a wonderful thing.”
“The most important point to remember is one basic cultural difference. We bules – foreigners – tend to plan for the future while most Balinese live in the here and now.”