Mon, 14 Aug 2000

Ethics dilemma in selecting tourism development

By I Wayan Juniartha

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): That tourism is the backbone of Bali cannot be denied. Nevertheless, such a claim should not prevent us from thinking critically and reflectively about the development of our tourist industry.

Several matters which need to be considered are the impact of the development of tourism on the environment as well as the people and the culture of Bali.

It is interesting to note that the development of tourism in Bali is often interpreted through the development of as many tourist facilities, hotels in particular, as possible. Fifteen zones have been projected to become tourism zones. One of the criteria of such a zone being the right to build hotels in the area.

Official 1998 data shows that the number of hotels in Bali reached 1,022 with a capacity of 13,640 rooms. This does not include the 38 hotels with a room capacity of 10,000 that are still under construction.

These thousands of hotels and guest houses pose a very heavy burden on Bali's environmental resources. Data from the Wisnu Foundation shows that 31,000 hotel rooms require 260 liters of water per second, which is the same amount needed by approximately 250,000 in villages, or the amount of water needed to irrigate 1,980 hectares of rice fields. On the other hand, research has shown that in 2000 water supplies in Bali will reach a critical level.

Furthermore, the vigorous development of tourist facilities directly as well as indirectly causes a shift in the function of fertile rice fields on the islands. Based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture, approximately 1,000 hectares of rice fields change their function yearly.

This shift in the function of rice fields has consequences on the production of food, marginalization of farmers, disappearing buffer areas (both for the environment and tourism), and poses serious threats to the perpetuation of traditional Balinese culture, which itself grew out of an agrarian culture.

There are two matters that have sustained the rapid development of the tourist industry even in the economic crisis: the decrease in hotel occupancy and the price war raged among hotels, which has become a yearly tradition.

The first is the basic strategy of our tourist industry which is based on the phrase as much as possible. Bali has to attract as many tourists as possible. Great numbers of tourists will also require great numbers of hotels, restaurants and cars, buses etc. Thus, the number of foreign tourists visiting Bali, which reached more than two million in 1998, is still not considered enough. In 2003, the targeted number is seven million. Because of this PHRI Bali thinks that Bali needs 15,000 more hotel rooms.

The second fact that has triggered the race to build tourist facilities is the unequal distribution of profits gained from tourism. In 1998/1999, Badung received Rp 129.7 billion, Rp 110 billion of which was from the tourist sector, chiefly from hotel and restaurant taxes. In Badung there are 463 hotels; Denpasar, for example, which has a PAD of approximately Rp 46 billion, Rp 33 billion of which is derived from the tourist industry.

This naturally makes other regions green with envy. Buleleng, for example, received a PAD of only Rp 5.6 billion.

It seems that the motto as much as possible in addition to the desire to get bigger profits will not stop in the near future. Thus, it is important for us to prepare for 2003, when Bali will have no less than 55,000 hotel rooms and will be invaded by seven million foreign tourists.

Of course, it is not wrong to consider another aspect of as much as possible. Greater numbers of tourists will need greater numbers of hotel rooms which will use up greater amounts of land, water and other natural resources, eventually leaving Bali with nothing worth "selling" to the tourists. In short, as much as possible actually leads to suicide.

To prevent this suicide from happening, there are several solutions that have been discussed by the intellectuals of Bali, starting from imposing a limit on the number of tourists, creating tourist buffer areas, developing ecotourism to creating a fairer system of profit sharing.

The big question is: Are we brave enough to make the choice? And right now, before it is too late.