When a tourist in Bali gets arrested, this is the woman they call

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Influencers who pose naked on top of sacred mountains. Reckless tourists who ride motorbikes around the island without helmets performing daredevil stunts.

When it comes to misbehaving tourists in Bali, Niluh Djelantik has seen and heard it all.

These are just a few “hugely unacceptable but too common forms of behavior,” says Djelantik, a local entrepreneur who has, in recent years, become the go-to person foreign tourists and travelers call upon when they run into trouble with the authorities.

“Things can get that outrageous.”

Djelantik, 48, was born and raised in Bali. Like many other Balinese, she has been passionate about promoting and supporting ethical tourism on Indonesia’s most popular island.

But with the return of international travelers after years of pandemic restrictions, reports of trashy tourist behavior have been on the rise.

Djelantik worked at top notch marketing firms in Jakarta and Bali, often alongside foreign expats and despite not having a legal background, it’s her mix of excellent language skills and contacts on the ground, combined with her international work experience that has led Djelantik to develop a reputation as an unofficial peacekeeper for the island.

However, there’s one area where she doesn’t stay neutral. “I’ve seen and heard some being impolite to Indonesian workers and I wouldn’t hesitate to speak up,” she said.

She has also expressed political ambitions and announced plans to run for Bali senator, a national parliamentary seat, next year.

Djelantik has mediated between misbehaving foreigners in Bali and the locals they annoy for years. She says she does this in an unofficial capacity and for free. She often receives “reports” from users on Instagram who flag posts about misbehaving foreigners.

“People like coming to me for help rather than going to the authorities because they know I will always respond and help mediate (trouble),” she said. “But I get approached by foreigners on Instagram too, those who misbehave and land in trouble with the authorities. So I listen to both sides and make a call on what I can do to help.”

Whether it’s calling up lawyers or setting up informal meetings or coffee sessions with local police officers and government officials, Djelantik tries to “strike a balance” between foreigners and residents to maintain peace when trouble arises – but it isn’t easy, she says.

“Things can get heated and Bali is so heavily reliant on international tourists – many who come to Indonesia and we treat with love and respect but they need to know their place if they want to call Bali their second home and this isn’t always the case.”

“If we don’t learn how to coexist peacefully, there will be consequences.”

‘Probably the most important person in Bali’

“She’s probably the most important person in Bali, after the governor (Wayan Koster),” the woman said.

She’s never met Djelantik but follows her on Instagram. “Bali is a small place and many people are close – bad news always travels fast. If there’s a foreigner in trouble, you’ll always see Niluh Djelantik involved,” she said.

“She comes across as being very sincere in her efforts to help and is definitely a good person to know… and you’ll never know if you’ll need her help some day.”

Djelantik recounted several recent incidents she stepped in to mediate – a Russian teenager who was caught spray painting a local school’s wall in January, and an incident that played out in March which saw a 24-year-old Russian tourist named Yuri Chilikin, cause an uproar when he uploaded a semi nude photo of himself taken on Mount Agung – Bali’s highest peak, which is also considered one of its most sacred religious sites.

Facing threats and deportation, Chilikin reached out to Djelantik through Instagram, asking for help with his situation. “He was quite remorseful and cooperative and was sincere and said that he was willing to pay for the consequences for what he did – so I agreed to help him,” she said.

With her help, he recorded a public apology and participated in a ritual ceremony at a temple in Denpasar where he met with Hindu priests and prayed. Bad behavior not only offends locals and officials, it also disrespects Hindu gods and deities, Djelantik said, explaining why such ceremonies had to be performed following these incidents.

“We dressed him up in traditional sarong and took him around the compound,” Djelantik recalled. “We wanted to show him the side of Bali that he needed to see and he was very cooperative.”

But even to the best of her efforts, Chilikin was deported to Moscow in April by immigration officials and barred from returning to Indonesia for at least six months over the incident.

“Balinese people are generally very accepting, tolerant and forgiving but that doesn’t mean our hospitality should be taken for granted,” Djelantik said. “At the end of the day, it’s about respecting the laws of a place you visit.”

Outrageous tourist behavior is no new phenomenon on the island but Djelantik’s efforts to promote ethical tourism comes at an important time.

Tourism has become a thorny subject and ongoing bad behavior among tourists has prompted the proposal of new rules – including bans on mountain climbing and motorbike rentals for foreign visitors. Visa free travel arrangements were also halted for over 150 countries as part of the tourism shakeup.

“We will no longer welcome mass tourism,” Bali governor Wayan Koster said at a conference in May. “We will restrict tourist numbers by implementing a quota system… This push will encourage the transformation of Bali, from mass tourism to quality tourism.”

“Bali should be open to all willing to respect its traditions and harmony,” Djelantik says. “We need to strike a balance between the foreigners, the people in power and Balinese.”

“We all want a better Bali but banning people is not the way to go. Bali needs tourists and this is about (getting foreigners) to respect our laws… and not take our hospitality for granted.”

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