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14 June 2010

Indonesia examines tourism

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Indonesia’s tourism is fraught with destructive myopia. For one, there is a burning obsession from all parties concerned to bring in as many tourists as possible without considering quality, opines Anak Agung Gde Agung, writing in the Jakarta Post.

The more bodies the better. There is little motivation to make sure that tourists entering the country are those who can appreciate the local culture and natural environment or to target those who are willing to stay longer and spend more.

This short-sightedness since time immemorial has had multifaceted negative impacts. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bali, where the continuing double digit growth of tourists has greatly contributed to the erosion of its customs, tradition and natural landscape.

The most destructive effect has been the explosion of tourist infrastructures due to the quantum leap in visitor numbers. Hotels, villas, restaurants are bursting at the seams, not to mention the numbers of cars and motorcycles. Despite the rapid expansion of roads everywhere, the growth in vehicles has far surpassed that expansion so that now all throughout Bali tangled traffic jams that become worse by the day are bringing the island’s streets to a standstill.

Other dangers also lurk. The island’s water reserves have reached precarious low levels because each hotel room consumes an average of 300 liters per day.

Multiply that by today’s 78,000 rooms, which is far in excess of the 22,000 room limit officially declared the optimal number for Bali, then you have an imminent catastrophic disaster coming. This deterioration is further worsened by serious erosion occurring at all of the 36 beaches and eight major rivers on the island as well as spiraling illegal logging occurring in the forests of West Bali.

Bad as the above situations may sound, there is a greater danger looming for Bali’s cultural identity.

This lies in the extremely fast and vast transfer of land from agricultural use to tourist facilities. Facts show that more than 1,000 hectares of farm land have changed hands every year to become sites for hotels, villas, restaurants and malls over the last 15 years.

With every land exchange, the temples, ceremonies, rituals and unique communal ways of life of the Balinese that once flourished on those lands disappear to make way for modern facilities that bring with them strong foreign cultural influences. With economic powers to give employment to the locals, these external forces have changed the life habits and outlooks of the surrounding populace.

This is what is happening to such places like Seminyak, Canggu, Sanur, Kuta, Jimbaran, the Bukit Area, Ubud and other similar fast growing places that have become foreign satellites replete with their expatriate lifestyles.

All these negatives could have been minimized, if not altogether avoided, if the government and interested parties would have heeded the most basic paradigm of tourism. This paradigm says that the best types of tourists are those who can appreciate what a certain destination can offer.

In the case of Bali, what it offers is its rich culture and breathtaking environment. Such tourists will admire and blend with the surroundings and in the process make the local people proud of their heritage and encourage them to conserve their culture and environment which will attract more similarly minded tourists. A higher influx of admiring tourists would induce the local populace to take even greater care of their tradition, customs and natural landscapes.

This would result in a spiraling cooperation between tourists and locals to bring more visitors and at the same time safeguard the local culture and environment. In such an instance, tourists would not erode local treasures. On the contrary they, together with the local populace, would actually reinforce them and provide a magnet for more similar tourists to come.

The opposite will occur if tourists coming to a certain destination are those who do not come for what that destination offers. In such cases a tourist might — rather than blend with the local environment – instead harbor views and conduct a lifestyle that lead him to intentionally or inadvertently enforce these on others, including the local populace.

This will have a downward spiraling effect whereby the locals will adopt that tourist’s habits and style to the detriment of their own culture. This is especially true if that visitor has the economic means to provide material gains for the local populace.

How does one bring in the right type of tourist? A crucial step would be to come up with promotional campaigns bearing the correct branding. Malaysia has its “Truly Asia”, India its “Incredible India” banner, while Singapore and Thailand have respectively their “Uniquely Singapore” and “Amazing Thailand” slogans. Branding is important to position the tourist destination concerned on the top of the lists of would-be tourists while also ensuring it attracts only tourists who can appreciate what that country offers. The right tourists will play their own role by encouraging the local populace of the tourist destination country to conserve their heritage while also attracting more like-minded tourists.

Given its phenomenal resources, the tourism industry is a natural fit for Indonesia. Our resources are truly god-given. All Indonesia needs now is the will to realize the huge potentials that tourism can offer. It is definitely worth Indonesia’s while to abide by the right paradigm in bringing in tourists as the rewards for success through this method are proven and just too great to ignore.


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