Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Model management: What is right for Bali's tourism?

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): For years Balinese intellectuals have demanded that the government reevaluate the mass-tourism model, which has been applied as the basis for the island's tourism development.

They believe that Bali must instead pursue the quality-tourism model.

"Bali is a small island with very limited natural resources. It's too bad that almost everybody seems to forget this simple fact," said Prof. L.K. Suryani.

With a total area of only 5,632 square kilometers, a tiny 0.29 percent of the total area of Indonesia, and a population of 3.1 million, Bali is clearly an overpopulated island. Its population density reaches 542 people per square kilometer.

Yet it continues to deal with an influx of visitors both foreign and domestic, who are lured by the island's age-old majestic culture and natural beauty, presented in each and every travel brochure. In 1999 the total number of visitors was 2.4 million.

Despite it all, the government has set an ambitious target for five million visitors in 2002.

"So the government believes that getting as many tourists as possible is the primary goal of Bali's tourism development. Yet, it, either deliberately or not, has ignored the heavy cost of that mass-tourism policy," outspoken environmentalist Made Suarnatha said.

Bali's natural resources are the first thing to have fallen victim to the policy. Research conducted by Bali's leading environmental non-governmental organization, the Wisnu Foundation, disclosed that today Bali has consumed 81.5 percent of its 4 billion cubic meters of potential water resources.

It is estimated that by the 2007 the entire water resources will have been used up.

The mass-tourism policy also has triggered the uncontrolled development of hundreds of tourism facilities. Hotels, restaurants, pubs, bars, galleries, artshops, shopping malls and golf courses continue to mushroom, mostly in the southern part of the island, devouring some 1,000 hectares of ricefields each year.

By 1999 Bali was home to 1,234 hotels with 34,317 rooms, and 642 restaurants with capacity for 51,660.

"The manner and speed in which these tourism facilities developed have contributed a lot to the increasing damage suffered by Bali's environment -- sea erosion, coral reef destruction, mangrove forest devastation and disappearing green areas," Suarnatha said.

In many cases the rapid development damaged the very things which had made the area worth visiting.

In Kintamani the newly built tourism facilities are obstructing the serene beauty of the famous Lake Batur, while in Ubud the heralded natural landscape of ricefields and hidden rivers is being transformed into unsightly solid concrete buildings.


"The megatourism project at Serangan island has not only destroyed the island's environment, but also has damaged its neighboring areas, namely Sanur and Tanjung Benoa, which are suffering from the worsening erosion caused by the development," another environmentalist, Made Mangku, said.

Tourism facilities have also contributed greatly to the already chronic problem of waste and garbage management. The lack of political will, which is apparent from the small amount of funds, manpower and equipment allocated to the cause, has made it difficult for the local government's waste management office to appropriately tackle the mounting problem.

"The mass-tourism model has also brought negative impacts to the social structure, and, most importantly, the cultural structure of Bali," a young intellectual Nyoman Gde Sugiharta said.

The rapid decrease of ricefields has not only shaken up agricultural society, which is the main foundation of Balinese culture, but also has marginalized Balinese farmers. In the long run, the marginalization of the farmers and the decrease in the number of ricefields will affect the continuance of Bali's agriculture based on traditional institutions such as banjar, desa adat and sekeha.

"Many Balinese artists are too busy catering to the needs of tourism market that they do not have time to contemplate, or even worse, to be creative," he said.

The quandary is that the tourism industry is the backbone of Bali's development. The industry has poured millions of dollars into investment, taxes and revenues, helping Bali survive the economic crisis which hobbled many other provinces.

"We acknowledge the huge contribution the tourism industry has made to the prosperity of Bali," said critic Putu Suasta. "And we never blame the tourists for all the problems we have. To be honest, the mistakes are ours, it is our own government that chose and applied the wrong model of tourism industry development."


The intellectuals believe that the only solution is the quality tourism model that will enable Bali to gain the maximum benefit from the industry, without sacrificing the future of the island.

"The aim is not the number of tourists, but the quality of tourists. The tourist with a deeper understanding of Bali's problems, high spending power and better length of stay, is what we are looking for," one said.

The intellectuals identified several steps that must be taken to reach that aim. First, the number of visitors to Bali must be limited to a responsible and reasonable number. The Bali government later must create a blueprint, which clearly defines which area would be developed, and which area would be conserved, and enforce that blueprint resolutely. The blueprint must include a restriction on megaproject tourism facility development.

The government must also create a scheme to fairly distribute the revenues of the tourism sector to the nine regencies in Bali. Today most of the tourism revenues are headed to Badung, Denpasar and Gianyar, which has created a gap in economic wealth and a brewing sense of jealousy from the other regencies.

"The government also has to launch a program to restore the natural resources and ecologically damaged areas in Bali. And, at the same time, start the development of a proper waste management system," Suasta said.

An ardent defender of the mass-tourism model, I Gde Wiratja, rejected the idea of quality tourism, saying that it was too premature to apply the model.

"We are not ready to do that. With the poor quality of our infrastructures, the stressful traffic jams, the bureaucrats who love asking for bribes, the lack of a good public transportation system, how can we ask for quality tourism?" said the head of Bali's chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI).

Wiratha also said that 94 percent of 1999's Rp 197 billion investment in Bali's hotel and restaurant sector was from non- Balinese entrepreneurs. He feared the application of the quality- tourism model would only benefit rich entrepreneurs from Jakarta, Bandung or abroad, and not the Balinese.

"Limitations on tourist number and restrictions on tourism facility development will make many young Balinese entrepreneurs lose their chance to enter this industry, and in the long run, lose their chance to contribute something to this island," he said.

Until these two groups find a way to settle their differences, the haunting image of an overpopulated and overexploited Bali will hang in the air, waiting to happen. (I Wayan Juniarta)