The art of negotiating, island style
Haggling over a few dollars might seem like a waste of time if you’re on a short weekend getaway. But if you’re travelling in the Gili islands, Bali and beyond for a long time (and on a budget), those few dollars add up.
In the Gili islands and Bali, negotiating a price (for practically everything) becomes a daily affair. Play the game well, and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty sweet deals.
Wouldn’t it be nice if tourist guides and boatmen in the Gilis, and not to mention Bali, decided on a standard price for their services and we could all skip the hassle of cattle trading? Well, that’s not about to happen, and it’s all part of the fun. Provided you’ve struck a deal like a pro, and you’ve paid a fair price for a service.
Here are a few vital tips for bargaining in Indonesia like a pro.
Get on island time
Forget the idea that time is money. On the islands, you’ve got more time than money – and so do the locals. One tactic they use to help you lose your patience and give in, is by lingering over an offer and making lots of small talk. Essentially wasting your time in hope that you’ll fork over the cash to save the hassle. So don’t be in a hurry to close a deal, but don’t linger over your offer for too long either. You don’t want to get roped into endless small talk and unnecessary pity purchases.
The guys working the tourist trade have been around for a long time. And they deal with rude and unpleasant tourists, day in and day out. So give them a break and treat them well, they’re more likely to strike a good deal with you if they know they’re getting an easy customer for the day. They’re on the paradise islands to enjoy island life as much as you are.
What’s the going rate?
On most occasions when you ask a tourist guide to give you a good price, he’ll ask you, “How much do you want to give?” They also use this comeback if you reject their starting price. Their question, of course, plays on your heart strings like a broken violin. Of course US$50 sounds reasonable for a boat ride from Gili Trawangan to Gili Meno – but you’re in Indonesia, not Australia. It should only cost US$25 on an outrigger, tops.
Shop around for prices and don’t be afraid to ask other travellers how much they’ve paid for services. That way, you can name your price with confidence, and know you’ve made a reasonable offer.
Play the game
When you approach a tour guide, he’ll size you up by asking you questions, lots of them. He’ll probably guess where you’re from by your accent, and then size up your holiday budget by asking you where you’re staying, and how many people you’re travelling with. If you’re staying somewhere nice, find out the name of the crappiest backpacker joint on the island. Otherwise, they’ll double their prices for five star resort customers.
Be polite and vote with your feet
It’s common to lose your temper if it seems that you’re being led down the garden path and the tour guide is wasting your time without letting up a good deal. It’s not worth getting angry. They don’t care what Tripadvisor has to say about them. Walk in the opposite direction and find someone else to strike a deal with. You can’t swing a cat in the Gilis without knocking over a tour guide or boatman.
Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach
From experience, I know that I’m more likely to get ripped off when I’m tired, hungry or I’m just not in the mood to go through the whole rigmarole. So try to make arrangements like fast boat transfers the day before. If you’re in a hurry to get things done (and wiped out from the previous nights’ festivities), you leave yourself wide open. Have a good breakfast and a strong coffee before you head out to make your deals for the day.
Read more Gili island travel tips
6 sneaky ways your Gili island vacay is costing you more
Island survival guide: 8 ultimate Gili travel tips
5 ways to get to the Gili islands from Bali