Paul Conibeer BaliIn August 2012, Paul Conibeer was jailed for 10 months for not paying his hotel bill in Bali. He has now written a book about his experience: “I Survived Kerobokan”. I have watched a couple of interviews now of him promoting his new book. I have sympathy for him having to go through his ordeal, but the story of how he ended up in prison still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The day before he was due to check out of his Bali hotel, he said his wallet was stolen out the front of a nightclub, containing all of his cash and bank cards. The hotel bill was around AU$1,300. He said he spoke to the hotel management and they agreed to accompany him to the police station to report the theft. At the police station instead of making a police report for stolen property, he was handcuffed and thrown into a prison cell.

It first seems strange to me that someone would take all of their cash and bank cards with them to a nightclub. Most people would have the foresight to leave some cash and their cards in the hotel safe, with their passport.

I believe that most hotel operators would be sympathetic to any trouble their guests run into. I am certain that if a guest couldn’t pay their hotel bill, hotel staff would do anything they could to contact friends and family overseas to help arrange payment.

For sure they would prefer to get their money, than see one of their guests go to jail. I am sure that contacting the police was a last resort and would only do so if a guest was refusing to pay their bill, or disputing the amount owed.

It seems a shame that we didn’t hear the hotel manager’s side of the story.

He says his family is not wealthy and his mother is sick. His family did send him money while he was in jail to buy food, so it is not like they completely refused to help him. The New Zealand consulate contacted his family to help organize payment, but of course they cannot be expected to foot the bill for the hotel.

Even if someone is not on good terms with their family, I am sure most people would have someone they can turn to, to borrow some money to stay out of a foreign prison. In the long run, I am sure it cost his family more money, than the original $1300 hotel bill. He would have needed another plane ticket back home and there is also loss of earnings while he was in jail.

He said the costs to get out of jail mounted over time. Well, you could kind of expect this as you need to pay for lawyers, immigration might get involved if he has overstayed his visa etc.

The thing which disappoints me about this story, is how it was presented in the Australian media. Rather than it being a story about “one man’s recklessness” it becomes a story of “dangerous Bali” and “Indonesian corruption”. When the incident was first reported, the headline was “NSW man jailed after ‘refusing to pay bribes’ in Bali”, which made it sound like a story about a guy standing up to corruption.

I hope he learned some lessons from his experience and maybe with the help of his book sales, he will be able to afford travel insurance on his next overseas holiday.