The Jakarta Post
Bali is famous for its beautiful sandy beaches, lush green rice terraces and traditional Hindu culture. Attracted by this global reputation, Bali has long been a tourism hotspot, pulling in 3 million holidaymakers in 2012.
However, striking the balance between economic growth and sustainable development is proving to be a serious challenge for the Balinese regional government.
Tourism is big business in Indonesia. Over 8 million tourists visited in 2012. The latest figures published in an OECD report show that the average expenditure per person is US$1,118, with an average stay of just over one week. This is big money when you consider that over 100 million Indonesians still scrape by on just $2 a day.
Tourism contributes 4.1 percent to Indonesia's GDP and employs 6.9 percent of the workforce. Tourism provides much needed jobs and growth, and is therefore strongly encouraged by the Balinese and national government.
The Indonesian government has gone to great lengths to push the Indonesian tourism industry forward. It features as one of the future key drivers of national economic growth, as laid out in the government's MP3EI economic master plan, which seeks to propel Indonesia into the top ten global economies by 2025. The government also has a standalone Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, with a fulltime sitting minister. Multiple national and local agencies have been setup to promote tourism and draw in holidaymakers.
Indonesia's national tourism office promotes 'Wonderful Indonesia' around the world, through international promotional fairs and a global advertising campaign. Local regions, such as Bali, also run their own organizations. The Tourism Information Center, based in Bali, promotes provincial tourism, such as Bali's local tourism industry as well as an array of other provinces. Bali and the rest of Indonesia are pushing ahead in the hope of even greater success.
Beyond the gleaming hotels and crystal waters however there is a dark side to this economic prosperity. Bali is becoming increasingly commercialized.
Large areas of previously pristine rice paddies are being concreted over to make way for new construction and development. This is threatening what makes Bali so special; it's beautiful environment and traditional culture.
Ironically, by embracing tourism and making way for new development, Bali may push away the very tourists it hopes to attract.
The crowded and congested destination of Kuta is a stark example of what can happen if development is allowed to go unchecked: Large-scale urbanization, international fast food franchises and booming western dance music simultaneously coming out of an array of bars and clubs.
Good facilities and good fun, but not particularly Balinese. Should this development continue unchecked, Bali is in danger of becoming a characterless relic of its former self, replacing the greenery and ancient Hindu temples with new temples of bland western style consumerism.
The Balinese government has in more recent times begun to realize the dangers that unchecked development might bring and is now putting greater emphasis on the environment and sustainability. Building rules and regulations have gradually been tightened and the development criteria expanded.
For a number of years now, building heights have been restrained by a rule that stipulates that no new buildings can be taller than the tallest palm tree. This has helped to maintain a semblance of a relaxed village feel in most areas. In 2011, the regional government also issued a new decree banning new buildings in already developed areas, to prevent future concrete jungles.
More recently, the new Nusa Dua- Ngurah Rai'Tanjung Benoa toll road in southern Bali, set to be completed this June, demonstrates the latest example of this difficult balancing act between necessary economic development and environmental preservation. The new highway is designed to divert traffic away from Bali's congested village roads, much complained about by local residents and foreign tourists alike, and improve inter-connectivity between southern parts of Bali (Nusa Dua) with South Denpasar and Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport.
Efforts were made during the development to minimize environmental damage by building large swathes of the highway over the sea, although despite these efforts, hectares of mangrove forest still had to be cleared. What has changed from the past however is that minimizing environmental damage has become a prominent feature in Bali's new developments.
Previous plans for relieving congestion involved large inland highways that would have caused even greater environmental devastation. Lessons from the past have begun to be taken on board, however imperfect current solutions remain to be.
In terms of local sustainability and economic growth, parts of Bali have proved that the two can go hand in hand. The quiet and relaxed touristy town of Ubud is a case in point. Famous for its traditional culture, Ubud has balanced sustainability with economic growth remarkably well. Arts and crafts shops, galleries and local goods dominate the streets. Restrictions on international franchises and overly commercial development have allowed the local economy and the local people to thrive.
In the Tabanan region of Bali, the local regency government has taken a tough line on tourism development. Businesses wanting to develop hotels in the region need to meet strict environmental and sustainable principles to gain a license. This includes training and hiring local labor and conserving the environment, where two-thirds of any development plots must be left as forests or rice paddies.
This also works in tandem with rural farmers, who rely on agricultural land to survive. This has not deterred investors, but has made them take a more considered and thoughtful approach to their developments. Further still, this has made local villagers more amenable to their presence. Sustainability can go hand in hand with economic growth.
The Indonesian government's latest tourism policy has taken on board these environmental and sustainable principles. It has realized that tourism has to be developed in a sustainable way. Current government policy is based on four noble principles. Tourism must be pro-poor, pro-growth, pro-job, and pro-environment. The challenge for Indonesia will be making this policy a reality.
The author is a research consultant and writer, living and working in Indonesia.