Friday, May 28, 2010

Tourism in Bali

We are staying at the Puri Bagus Candidasa resort, so this is a perfect opportunity to write about tourism in Bali, with the caveat that I have been here all of twelve days. So take these thoughts as the first impressions of an ill-informed neophyte.

There seem to be three kinds of tourism here. The majority of visitors come for relatively cheap fun in the sun beach vacations. This place is pretty close to Australia and to the economic powerhouses of east Asia. The second is cultural tourism, centered around Ubud and Balinese art, music and religion. The third is high end resort vacations in tropical paradise. Finally, I suppose you can also add the ex-pat community. Foreigners who have moved here.

Tourists are coming from Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Europe, particularly the the UK, France,and Germany, the U.S., and from other Indonesian islands, particularly Java. Millions of people come here for vacations every year.

All of this is having a huge impact upon the island. Some positive, even if most tourist dollars stay in Bali for less than 24 hours before transfer to Jakarta or to Japan and destinations elsewhere, this industry is bringing a lot of jobs and money to the Balinese. Tourism is also bringing new ideas and opportunities to the Balinese and while that is not always positive it seems clear that some, perhaps many Balinese find that refreshing. Tourism is also building infrastructure, some of which can be used to meet the needs of ordinary Balinese. Finally, tourist interest in the environment and in Balinese culture seemed to have led to an increased sensitivity and interest in maintaining the environment and Balinese culture.

But it is also pretty clear, in fact it is blinding obvious as soon as you leave the airport that there are significant negative impacts as well. Western tourists bring western consumption expectations with them. This is having a huge impact on water use, electricity consumption, land use, and transportation (to and on the island.) Culturally, tourists come to Bali to see and experience this unique culture and form of Hinduism. But by our very presence and interest we impact on that culture. Ceremonies that were purely Balinese are now attended by foreigners with varying levels of knowledge of and sensitivity towards the ceremony and the people involved. Like European cathedrals, Balinese temples are overrun with people whose relationship to the space and the activities conducted there is very different than that of the local population. Aspects of Balinese ceremony and culture have now become performance or product for tourists and have been radically changed in the process. Hoyt contends that change is inevitable and the the Balinese may be strong enough to find a way to incorporate change brought by tourism on their culture and still maintain control of that culture. I would argue that while cultural change is inevitable, change brought about by post-modern global tourism is almost inevitably corrosive. Environmental change is perhaps the most destructive. Over-consumption by tourists (like me), pollution, the impact on global climate change of simply flying here, all negatively impact the island.

I am living in an object example now. I am sitting by the pool, using the wifi (and too much water and electricity) in a resort hotel that is constructed on a global model and has little connection to Bali. The beach has eroded away because someone mined the coral. The coral reef we went to yesterday evening was gorgeous, the best I have ever snorkeled in (above? over? Whatever!) but then I have only snorkeled in the Dry Tortugas. Seriously though, amazing. Acres of coral, feet from the beach, shoals of brightly colored fish, Mark followed a turtle. Just amazing. But as we swam we had to wave away the plastic garbage floating in the water. Exactly the same stuff Mark and I collected yesterday. Some of the coral was bleached and some had been damaged by boats that have come here to deliver tourists (like me) to the coral reef. Unusually, in my experience, one sees few offerings around the hotel grounds. There are few holy places, and few people employed by or connected to the hotel who feel the sense of connection to the place and culture that would lead to the leaving of daily offerings.

Ironically, it is now May 31st and since I began writing this post we have returned to Ubud, traveled to Denpasar (more on that in a later post) and now find my self at another beach resort hotel in Livona. This is first Internet connection I have had since Candidasa. The experience is much the same. Not much beach, buffet lunch, swimming pool with bar, 1970 - 80's resort experience, twenty middle-aged German tourists all drinking Coke, plonked down in Bali. These experiences have been the least satisfying of my time in Bali.

With one exception. Margaret and I walked out of the hotel in Candidasa through the banana groves and along the cost to the water temple perched on the promontory where the caretaker priest welcomed us and allowed us to take photos and patiently answered all out questions as we gazed over the sparkling Indian Ocean towards the island of Nusa Penida and watched Balinese cows graze on the hillside as the tropical breeze .lofted the cotton awning over the open-air temple.


Charlene said...

Many good points, here, Jonathan. Thank you.

My first trip with Hoyt to Bali was Dec. 2001 - Jan. 2002, only a few months post 9/11. Tourism was stalled, of course. Some Balinese we talked with realized they had sacrificed some cultural ways, for instance, they'd sold land formerly dedicated to growing rice, to developers who had built hotels. Hotels that then stood empty. Bali lost a lot of money and Balinese trained for the tourist industry lost jobs. Even now Hoyt tells me your driver, Dewa, has said the gods sent your group there because without you he'd be out of work. Anyway, with less rice to sell to the world, for instance, I think some Balinese realize their high hopes for income from tourism is shakey and even wrong. It's a tough symbiosis...

fery said...

nice blog