Ecotourism on Bali

Athena Kurry
Professor Lewis
Final Research

Bali: the Paradox of Everybody’s Eden

Bali is paradise.  Beautiful beaches, vibrant flora and fauna, and exotic music and dance conjure images of the quintessential romantic island destination—a garden of earthly delights—a place where all want to visit, and many do.  Popular tourist locations are not accidental; they are well crafted, and Bali has been refining its brand for 100 years.  The United Nations promotes tourism as a development tool. “When done correctly, tourism investment can create local jobs, conserve natural resources and infuse long-term wealth” (United Nations Foundation, 2009).  When done incorrectly, tourism depletes natural resources, degrades the environment, and creates an ever-widening wealth disparity that stratifies and suffocates local culture.  These unsustainable conditions are often the result of mass tourism.  The phenomenon of mass tourism relates to the sheer quantity of tourists in any given location that drains resources from the local community.  Its long-term effects may be overdevelopment and a local community with a resentful dependency upon the tourist dollar.

Located between Java and Lombok in the Indian Ocean, Bali is one of 17,500 islands that comprise the Republic of Indonesia, and the only island that is predominately Hindu.  It has a complex, rural, and recently democratic society that is both decentralized and stratified.  Indonesia’s national news agency, Antara, reports that 45% of Indonesia’s foreign exchange is derived from Balinese tourism (Bali Discovery News, 5/17/10) and the industry has grown to 62% of its GDP (Hitchcock, 2007, p.171).  Tourism on Bali is big business indeed, and that volume has also caused big societal and environmental problems.  The island’s population has grown to three times its suggested carrying capacity and its environmental and social systems are drained.  According to the Environmental Study Center of Bali’s Udayana University, the island seems to have relinquished its ability to grow food, importing nearly half of its needs.  Additionally, Bali is facing a “critical shortage of water” (The Jakarta Post, 5/3/2010).  Suicide bombers at tourist locations killed 201 people in 2002 and 23 people 2005.  The resilient tourist industry has since rebounded, but the resentment of tourists remains.  The time is critical for Balinese decision makers to consciously decide how they want to shape the future of not only their economy, but for their society and the very ecosystem it depends upon.  Can principles of sustainability reverse the effects of decades of mass tourism, resource exploitation, political corruption, and social unrest?


Theories of Sufficiency and Sustainability

At the root of any community are expectations and norms that establish the principles on which it operates.  By acknowledging a set of decision-making principles, a community decides what it would like to be.  Thomas Princen describes a broad social organizing principle used to address “critical environmental threats” such as overdevelopment and overconsumption (2005, p.9).  His idea of sufficiency establishes principles of management on virtues of “frugality and moderation” (Princen, 2005, p.11).  As part of the introduction to his book, Princen highlights a redwood timber company from northern California, Pacific Lumber.  He doesn’t focus on them because they were the best, the biggest, the most efficient or even the longest running.  The company could have been all of those things but chose another goal; to preserve the forest that sustained their business.  The giant redwoods are still there.  The company and the trees coexisted for nearly 150 years because of what the company called “restrained harvesting”.  “Harvesting not what the market will bear, but what the forest will bear” (Princen, 2005, p.3).  The company respected their resource and their stockholders, remaining debt-free and profitable for more than a century.  Their success was found in their restraint and understanding “enough”.  This is Princen’s idea of sufficiency.

On the other hand, efficiency is the hallmark of an economically-centered society that values more product for less effort.  ”More” is the value and the operative word that is evident in Balinese growth.  Efficiency is linked to progress and represents industrial values “centered on the immediate and the expansionist” (Princen, 2005, p.120).  Balinese policy represents these industrial values.  Tourism offers an annual growth rate higher than any other industry (Pigram, 1997) and Balinese decision-makers are focused on capitalizing on opportunities for increased wealth.  “Policy that promotes efficiency…promotes increased personal and societal wealth in the here and now” (Princen, 2005, p.120).  The problem with efficiency is that it assumes opportunity for endless expansion.

The idea of sustainability is a policy goal.  The term is not synonymous with environmental improvement, as many believe, but actually refers to three development goals outlined by the Earth Summit of 1992: 1) economic growth, 2) environmental protection, and 3) social equity.  (Gould and Lewis, 2008, p.270).  The relative balance of these goals and a long-term decision making orientation is the matrix of sustainability. The term was first used in the 1987 Brundtland Report, also known as Our Common Future, written by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Sustainable development was then defined as “development that meets the needs and aspiration of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future”.  In addition to the time component, the definition also implies a distinction between growth and development.  Economists have acknowledged this variance since the 1940s.  Of the many interpretations, I prefer the reductionist definitions offered by the Worldwatch Institute.  “Growth means to get bigger.  Development means to get better—by increasing quality and diversity” (2007, p.156). Efficiency has perpetuated the myth that to foster development we must accept growth (Princen, 2005).  I find that the very idea of efficiency calls for the question, at what point is our growth sufficient?  Steady state economist, Herman Daly said, “It would be very difficult to define sufficiency and build the concept into economic theory and practice.  But I think it will prove far more difficult to continue to operate (as if) there is no such thing as enough” (as cited in Princen, 2005, p.11).

Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism applies theories of sustainability to tourism management.  It is a broad term that many other types of tourism may fall under: ecotourism, nature tourism, adventure tourism or marine tourism, to name a few.  Ideas of sustainable tourism evolved from the roots of nature tours that have been traced back more than 100 years to a Sierra Club outing program known as “High Trips”.  The annual expeditions began in 1901 as treks in the Sierra Nevada backcountry for a hundred hikers.  These excursions were hardly ecologically sound as the large groups generally left a trail of environmental destruction in their path.  The club didn’t respond to growing environmental concerns until 1972, when the trips were broken into much smaller groups of a dozen or so hikers (Honey, 2008, p.12).  This example marks an early understanding of carrying capacity.  By limiting the number of hikers to a non-destructive level, these nature trails may be enjoyed by many more people over a much longer period of time.

Carrying capacity is the sustainable tourist limit of a location, and the central principle in environmental protection and sustainable tourism development.  It establishes the maximum number of tourists allowed before resources are degraded to the point of unsustainability.  The capacity is a composite of elements including physical, ecological, cultural, tourist and host social concerns to determine “how much tourism is sufficient to yield positive returns and avoid its blights” (Pigram, 1997, p.281). This scientifically derived number facilitates sustainable policy and management.  Capacity management presents a great challenge as few organizations have the resources to conduct the complex science necessary to determine the ecological impacts of visitors to protected territories.  Without that science, it is impossible to predict and monitor impacts and management becomes a guessing game (Buckley, 2001).  Carrying capacity is a rigid tipping point based on numbers.  To exceed those numbers is to enter an unsustainable realm where damage may not be reversible.

Bali continues to sacrifice environmental protection and social equity in an endless pursuit of economic growth.  The Bali Development and Planning Agency with the Environmental Study Center at Udayana University have established Bali’s carrying capacity to be 1,000,400-1,600,000.  The current population on Bali is 3,320,000 (The Jakarta Post, 5/3/2010). The Bali Chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), the Bali Tourism Authority (Diparda) and the Bali Tourism Board (BTB) all support a current proposal for the Japanese tourist visa to be extended from a maximum stay of 2 months to a maximum stay of three years, because of the potential economic benefits (Bali Discovery News, 5/8/2010).  Central government has yet to make a determination on this proposal.  Obviously, any plan that would increase the number of people on Bali is not sustainable.  The concept of sustainability is a guiding set of decision-making principles focused on the future.    “Like peace, democracy and progress…sustainability is a ‘big idea’, a global concept that has arisen to meet a contemporary challenge: global ecological crisis” (Princen 30).  The same big idea may be used in a small way, to address an environmental threat on one island.  Empowered by the logic of sufficiency, the Balinese government can say “enough.”



Ecotourism is not a magic elixer to cure Bali’s ills.  It is, however, an important tool in a larger plan for sustainable tourism management.  Especially relevant is the way in which ecotourism engages local communities.  The roots of ecotourism illustrate its core theories.  In the early 1970’s, the Kenyan government agreed to experiment with new approaches to tourism and development.  It adopted a “stakeholders” theory that says communities living in nature “can and should benefit from tourism and save nature in the process” (Honey, 2008, p.14).  The idea of “benefit” at a community level is also consistent with sustainable development theory stating that a community must work its way up from poverty, as opposed to aid money trickling down.  This participant concept of ecotourism grew through eastern and southern Africa.  By the mid 1980s, “the stakeholders theory was broadened to encompass environmentally sensitive, low-impact, culturally sensitive tourism that also helped to educate visitors and local community members” (Honey, 2008, p.14).

Simultaneously there was a call for conservation in Latin America to counter the harsh exploitation of natural resources and industry.  Ecotourism was both a conservation tool and an economic alternative to logging, mining and ranching.  Latin American conservationists outlined the potential symbiosis between tourism and conservation.  So for different reasons, to rise from poverty and to protect the environment, ecotourism emerged from both continents.  The eventual cross-fertilization of an emerging industry resulted in a more simplified understanding of the term.  The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as the “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people” (Honey, 2008, p.28).

The understanding of ecotourism has not always been so succinct.  A plethora of definitions and the loose use of the term have misrepresented its values in much the same way that “green-washing” does today.  The UN’s Agenda 21 program spoke little of tourism directly but proved to be influential over the course of the program’s evolution.  First revealed at the Earth Summit in 1992, the program’s focus was on sustainable development.  Over time, many point to its evolving ideology as a contentious paradox.  The program was “criticized for putting environment and development categories in separate categories and uniting development and trade (not trade and environment).  This separation of two central dimensions of sustainable development has filtered down to many of the existing sustainable tourism development programs” (Higham, 2007, p.35).  One type remains true to the sustainable development goals stated in the Brundtland Report.  The other is a loose association with the criteria of being “ecologically bearable”.  According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. So ecotourism has the potential to generate big benefits, big dollars–and big corruption.

Many independent tour operators on Bali profess to offer ecotours, and some of these tours may actually meet TIES criteria.  But without the support of the government and a cohesive plan for tour management and planning, ecotours can’t reverse the damage caused by decades of resource depletion.  This support needs to come from local communities.  The examples of local community management above, indicate that the prospects for maximizing the benefits of ecotourism are high.  Ecotourism can protect natural resources and develop local economies.  In this manner, locally managed ecotourism is a viable tool for sustainable development.


Environmental Agencies

Indonesia has a Department of Environment, however, NGOs are the environmental watchdogs.  In 1980, the environmental organization Wahana Lingkungan Hidup (WAHLI) formed to function as an umbrella organization for all other environmental groups.  It developed strong networks locally and internationally.  WAHLI crafted the Environmental Law of 1982.  Article 19 of the law gives NGOs the power to enforce policy as well as legal rights as environmental lobbyists to protect Indonesia’s natural resources from overdevelopment (Baker, 1999).  Thus the state has absolved itself of much involvement in environmental issues—and responsibility–relying on special interest NGOs for environmental policing.  How effective are they?  Based on my observations, WAHLI tries very hard to fight the uphill battle against political corruption and government and corporate monopolies.  A recent MSNBC article pointed to the “discovery” of 180 luxury villas built in protected forest.  Since there is no building permit, the owners have remained “unidentified”.  Local media believes the homes belong to government officials.  If the officials are native, the area becomes a ‘conservation village’ and is protected along with the forest (MSNBC, 2/2/2010).  Corrupt government officials know the policy loopholes and how to exploit them.  WAHLI is left to slay all of the environmental predators including the very government from which it requires support.  WAHLI protests, uses letter-writing campaigns and initiates lawsuits against polluting corporations.  The group is most successful at pressuring developers to scale back their plans.

In 2004, President Yudhoyono became Indonesia’s first president elected by popular vote.  He has been the host of several environmental conferences and is the fist president to address environmental issues.  One of his very public pet projects is rampant deforestation caused by illegal logging, industrial agriculture expansion, and destructive “development” projects.   The US State Dept. website says that Yudhoyono has initiated a multi-agency drive against illegal logging that has significantly decreased illegal logging through stronger enforcement (1/21/2010). Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have been very critical of the government’s methods of forest [mis]management.

A Bali Times article reports that President Yudhoyono publicly expressed his appreciation for the efforts of Greenpeace, without acknowledging that many of its protesters had just been deported.  The same article quoted the President saying  “I believe there’s a mafia in illegal logging. Our mafia task force should be able to look into the possibility that such a mafia exists and to stop them.”  The article concludes, “Rampant corruption infests all areas of Indonesian society and regularly makes a mockery of Yudhoyono’s pledges of clean government” (The Bali Times, 4/9/2010).  Indonesian corruption is so historically pervasive that it can’t be separated and extracted like a parasitical “mafia” on a legitimate governance, but is systemically entrenched like an unchecked virus.


The History of Tourism on Bali

Indonesia was under Dutch rule for 300 years.  The Dutch recognized the value of Bali’s equitable climate, unique culture and fantastic natural beauty, and were also aware of the profit potential of the tourist industry.  Identifying Bali as paradise, they set out to market it to the world.

1914 – The Dutch brought the Official Tourist Bureau to Bali.

1920 – Dutch implemented a policy known as “Balinization” (Baliseering) designed to teach youth about Balinese artistry.  In hindsight the methods used are in line with what we call “social engineering”.  The Dutch weren’t trying to preserve what they found but create a tradition they believed should exist (Hitchcock).

1924 – The Tourist Bureau’s first figures recorded 213 visitors in Denpasar, certainly all of them rich and fabulous.  They shared stories including a reference to Bali as the “morning of the world” by the Indian Prime Minister in 1913…the name stuck.

1936 – Bungalows were built near Kuta beach to create a more “authentic” experience.

1952-53 – The first Balinese dance troupe went on an international tour.  It was well received and got a lot of media coverage.

1969-1974 – The Five Year Plan for President Suharto’s scheduled tourism boom.  The image of international visitors admiring his island was intended to salvage his global reputation (Baker).

1969 – Indonesia’s 1st international airport is built in Denpasar

1970s – Pictures of Balinese waves were printed in surf magazines, igniting the rise of the Balinese “surfing mecca” that coincided with the rise of surfing globally.

1971 – The government campaigned to deny visas to hippie tourist dropouts.  They were called “drug addicts”, “nauseating”, “penniless guests” and “practioners of free sex” (Hitchcock).    Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic nation so moral corruption is an issue, and a large part of their motivation.  However, hippies still had some money so they were granted visas but the stigma remained.  Unfortunately, these beliefs continue to fester within a resentful culture.

The desire to attract wealthier tourists who contribute more to the economy led to developing more performances that tourists would gladly pay for.  The demand for sacred dance and gamalon performances was high.  However, the use of sacred ceremonies for tourist dollars became a concern.

1974 – “Cultural Tourism Regulation” was the development of secular versions of Balinese customs.  This was the first document to outline the idea of cultural tourism.  Supported by the UN, it was revised in 1991.  It created annual arts festivals that were initially controversial because of their high cost but proved enormously successful.  Culture was now viewed as a resource.  Bali is not a state within a state but a recognized regional culture, kebudayaan daerah (Hitchcock).

1980’s – The Sheraton and Club Med were built in Nusa Dua to target Japanese and Australian tourists.

1990’s – The annual tourism growth rate remains at a world high.

1997-9 – The Asian Crisis in Bali marked a financial crash and a period of political reform, Keterbukaan, more commonly known as the “Era of Globalization”.  Suharto’s regime was overthrown.  The tourist numbers remained surprisingly high on Bali despite cancellations, but that was partially due to an influx of money from foreign investors.  This dramatic shift created new opportunities, and the Governor was accused of selling the island to foreign interests.  Financial instability coincided with local civil unrest.  Publicly, the government stated that political uprisings were “contained” on Bali and removed from tourist areas.  A large campaign declared Bali Aman, Bali is safe (Hitchcock).

2003 – October 12th, the Chinese-owned Sari Club in Kuta was bombed killing 201 people (including 2 bombers): 88 Australians, 35 Indonesians, 23 British, 7 Americans plus small numbers representing countries on every continent.  The subsequent trial confirmed that Westerners were the target (Hitchcock).  Tourism dropped by an average of 30% the following year (Pigram).

2005 – October 1st, 3 bombers attacked several Indonesian-owned cafes along Jimbaran Bay and Kuta.  23 were killed and 151 were injured, mostly all Indonesian (Hitchcock).  Tourism fell 40% during the following holiday season, then rebounded (Pigram).  The plan to harm Westerners backfired.

2009 – Bali exceeds 2 million foreign visitors for the first time, demonstrating a growth rate of 13.26% over 2008.  However, the stays were shorter and less money was spent for a zero sum gain (The Jakarta Post, 3/20/2010).


Mass Tourism

Since WWII, international tourism has grown at spectacular rates, with the greatest growth to East Asia and the Pacific.  The1960s brought an exceptional tourist boom with annual growth rates topping 22%.  Bali’s first international airport was built in 1969.  Since 1970, Balinese tourism exemplifies mass tourism.  The annual tourism growth rate to the region remains a world high of 8.8% through the 1990s, compared to the world average tourism growth rate of 3.9% (Pigram, 1997, p.58).  Any potential investor would find these numbers attractive, so unbridled development continues.

Mass tourism most generally refers to tourist participation of large numbers of people, and that is the goal of many state governments because of the profits tourists promise.  That is unfortunate because as this paper will demonstrate, more people create a larger impact that doesn’t necessarily equal greater profit.  In fact, it may likely result in loss; economic, environmental and social.  Tourism has been considered to be a “soft [economic growth] option” which can be developed relatively easily and does not require much in terms of specific planning and resources” (Wall, 1991).  This belief invites mismanagement, and the many ill effects of mass tourism.  Butler says that “the nature of tourism to some degree determines the nature and pattern of growth and unless checked and controlled, will inevitably create a set of problems” (as cited in Pigrim, 1997, p.285).  They include: environmental degradation, resource depletion, overdevelopment, monopolies, economic disequilibrium, and social ills such as stratification, inequality, and a corrosion of local culture and identity.  Since these problems can be attributed to tourism in varying degrees, I will look one of the more direct connections between tourism and local culture and identity.

It is difficult to state the specific impact that tourism has had on ethnicity and the Balinese identity.  “Tourist culture” becomes so ingrained in the host culture that it is impossible to distinguish between the two.  So Balinese can’t help but reflect their branded “Balinization” and the influence of Western and Japanese visitors.  The resulting ethnogenesis is a flexible adaptation of introduced cultures and the response to living in the modern world.  In recent decades, the “discourse has moved from the idea of Balinese identifiers to the people with the authority to act in Balinese society” (Hitchcock, 2007, p.9).   In effect, Bali is as Bali does.

Creating a mass produced, two-dimensionally packaged tourist destination attracts people who don’t respect the local culture or the local environment.  To this tourist, price and duration is more important than the specific location.  I will use the dashboard bobble-head hula girl to illustrate.  The island of Oahu capitalizes on the very sellable image of the Hawaiian “hula girl”.  The girl image is fun and sexy.  In a bobble-head form, it is a playful and kitschy way to remember a Hawaiian holiday.  Placed on the car dashboard, others immediately recognize the driver as a fun and playful person (perhaps also a bit sexy and ironic) who has been or will go to Hawaii.  The fact that nothing about this hula girl image is actually related to traditional Hawaiian culture has become irrelevant.  Traditionally, men danced hula and women only performed for tourists for obvious reasons.  Grass skirts and rapid hip movements are Tahitian.  Hawaiian hula dancers have always worn cloth.  An Oahu visitor would have to actively seek this information as even a cultural ambassador like the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) sells dashboard bobble-head hula girls.  The PCC is non-native owned and operates as permitted by the Hawaiian government.  The Hawaiian government has prioritized economic growth interests above Hawaiian culture and the ecosystems it was built upon.  As a result, a two-dimensionally packaged culture dominates the Hawaiian visitors’ experience.  So it is reasonable to expect a visitor to respect a culture and the land in the very manner it was presented.

Currently, Bali demonstrates that it has much in common with the Hawaiian policy of industrial tourism.  By following the growth trajectory of their own decisions, it is easy to envision a bobble-head dashboard version of the wood carved Balinese surfer and his human-sized penis head with a face and grass hair.  Remarkably, I have seen millions of them in various sizes in Kuta, but my point is not about the tchotchkes themselves.  They will always be sold in tourist centers, and that is economically positive.  My point is about the values represented and the theoretical goal of quantity over quality.  Restraint shown in the tourist sector could result in fewer people creating a smaller environmental impact, gaining a deeper cultural experience—and spending more money.

Last year, Bali exceeded its goal of 2 million foreign visitors, demonstrating a growth rate of 13.26% over 2008, the highest in decades.  However, visitor stays were shorter and less money was spent for a zero sum gain (The Jakarta Post, 3/20/2010).  By Bali’s very own figures, quantity did not generate greater gain.  Factoring in the environmental impact and resource consumption of the additional 300,000 visitors will certainly reveal a loss.

Perhaps we may finally take our focus off of the visitors, as they are just guests, and place it on the decision-making of our gracious hosts.  Bali determines who may invest in and develop their land.  State values are represented in these selections, and the values of the developers are conveyed to the visitors.   “Governments can influence the development of tourism in certain areas by setting the conditions of investment and the scope of financial concessions, and regulating conditions of access to land” (Pigram, 1997, p.285).  Therefore, many of the issues related to mass tourism may be circumvented by creating, managing and enforcing relevant policy.


Oversupply and the Treadmill of Production

Allan Schnaiberg’s treadmill of production is a “growth at all costs” policy that is easily seen in Bali’s tourist industry.  Growth policy displaces and underemploys workers to a point where goals can only be maintained through economic adjustments and environmental sacrifices that create future growth policy that displaces more people requiring more adjustments and environmental sacrifices in a self-perpetuating cycle.  Observing this practice is as illogical as reading the theory.

Starting from the present situation, the current demand for accommodations on Bali is 24,000 rooms.  The current supply is 55,000 rooms ( translated by Bali Discovery News, 3/9/2010).  In a desperate attempt to fill hotel rooms that exceed demand by more than 100%, Bali embarks on an aggressive sales mission.  The Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism is targeting 620,000 Australian visitors to visit Indonesia for 2010 (Bali Discovery News, 5/10/2010).  That is an incredibly high number.  Australia is the leading source of foreign tourists to Bali.  Their total arrival for 2009 was 446, 042 and that was a 45% growth over their 2008 arrivals.  Their mission is to entice an additional 200,000 Australians to Bali to fill cheap rooms at the rate of US $10-15 per night.  I believe it significant to mention that many Balinese don’t even like Australians.  They are often disrespectful guests and sometimes the target of suicide bombers.  A recent headline reads “Louts, Bogans, and Yobbos Not Welcome in Bali.”  The article states that a current upsurge in misbehaving Australians is an embarrassment to the Australian Business Council (Bali Discovery News, 4/10/2010).  Barrel-scraping aside, the Australian dollar is strong and several airlines have increased the number of inexpensive flights from Perth—and they have rooms to fill.  “With the government acting as the marketing partner with the private sector, the promotional tour has adopted the theme of ‘sports and well-being’” (Bali Discovery News, 5/10/2010).  Whose well-being are they concerned with?  The answer appears to be a consortium that benefits from satisfied developers, but I am reaching for a logical explanation.  What is clear is this insatiable drive for growth demonstrates no concern for Balinese people.  Nor do I see a desire by the government or any of its four tourist bureaus to actually develop the industry that Balinese people have come to rely upon.

The island is dependent on tourism.  More people want to participate than the industry can handle, which drives down wages.  Those excluded from the industry have few economic opportunities.  As a result, there is a large and continuously growing income disparity due to unequal distribution of wealth.  Dr. I Wayan Windia of Bali’s Udayana University’s Agriculture Faculty speaks of this situation in an op-ed piece for BisnisBali.  “We have been battered and bruised by the process of Bali’s tourism sector over the past 40 years. Experts note that 50% of the profits derived from Bali’s tourism sector are repatriated to other places outside Bali and abroad. The people of Bali are left to swallow the high social costs imposed by tourism as many Balinese are not prepared to participate and compete in the highly competitive tourism sector”(5/8/2010b).

Imagine a community generated project developed with multilevel partners who share in the opportunity to learn and benefit from these projects while co-managing their development.  These community projects would develop diverse skill sets and educate community members of all ages.


Lost Agriculture

A marginalized agriculture sector has reduced its GDP contribution from 59.1% in 1971 to 19.81% in 2000.  Over the same period, tourism has risen from 33.4% to 62.35% (Hitchcock, 2007, p.171).  Young Balinese have found it difficult to earn a living in the rural north of the island. Arable land continues to be “developed” with more tourist facilities and residences.  Working on the family farm is no longer an option for most.  So they have left their ancestral land to seek economic opportunities in the urban south.  Competition in the south is great and tensions have grown between local, penduduk asli, and migrant, pendatang, service workers who tend to be more competitive and determined. (Hitchcock, p.172).  Rural Balinese have found themselves culturally ill equipped to compete in the aggressive tourism industry.  With no place to go, they remain on the beach, practicing English and becoming proficient surfers—and mediocre hustlers.  Land use decisions have had significant consequences on the Balinese culture.

Bali needs 521,000 hectares [1 hectare = approximately 2.5 acres] of fertile land to meet its minimum agricultural needs.  It currently has 321,000 and must import nearly half of its food (The Jakarta Post, 5/3/2010).  Agriculture is not even able to support the demand for young coconut leaves used in ritual offerings on the island.  They must be imported from East Java.

Tourism dropped significantly the year following the bombing in 2002.  Agriculture became the only option to provide for the devastated island.  The government campaigned with an aggressive call for Balinese to return to agriculture.  Two problems presented themselves: 1) Much of the arable land had been “developed”, and 2) The younger generation didn’t learn how to farm.  So despite the ‘call to agriculture’ PSAs on Bali TV, the agriculture sector did not increase.  In fact, the government claims to not know how to stimulate a return to agriculture.  Soon all agriculture may follow the way of seaweed harvesting, a once a vibrant part of Balinese industry that is now confined to outer islands (Knight, et al, 1997).

Imagine if farms were publicly supported and biodiversity was celebrated. What if the National Land Agency (BPN), Governor Pak Pastika, the International Real Estate Association and property developers worked with young Balinese to ignite agricultural education on recovered co-operative farmland?  What would a community produce if it had a secure livelihood that it self-managed?



            The crippling effects of overpopulation and drained resources have caused local environmentalists to say “Enough”.  I Wayan Arthana, the head of Environmental Studies at Udayana University, said “The authorities need to carry out strict population control and ongoing campaigns to raise people’s awareness of the current environmental issues to reduce the impact of the problem” (The Jakarta Post, 5/3/2010).

Bali is saturated with hotels and restaurants.  No new development in this area can result in a viable business, and many existing tourist businesses are now bankrupt.  These conditions are understood and publicly acknowledged by government officials and professional associations.  A member of the local House of Representatives in Karangasem (DPRD-Karangasem), Nyoman Sadra, describes the corrupt investment process to a journalist.  He said that officials are motivated to disregard logic and zoning regulations by new investor finder fees.  These must be some huge “fees” for someone to desecrate their own sacred land by ignoring the laws designed to protect it.  Not only is the local environment irreparably harmed by superfluous construction, the local economy is negatively impacted by wasteful expenditures.  Local wages are driven down to Rp. 75,000 or US$8 per month for employees of inevitably failing businesses.  Nyoman Sadra told The Bali Post that “the hotel and restaurant sector in Karangasem is over-saturated and new developments should not be allowed” (3/1/2010).

There is a deep resentment in many Balinese that manifests as pervasive entitlement to extort their visitors.  Perhaps rooted in the brutal treatment they received from the Dutch, there is a cycle of disrespect that is incongruent with the spiritual and peaceful Balinese manner.  There are endless accounts of systemic corruption on every level that range from petty larceny to grand theft.  Money changers assign rates they find convenient.  Immigration officers embezzled US$300,000 from visa fees (Jarrett, 5/17/2010), and I would not drive in Bali without a US$5 bill to offer a police officer who might arbitrarily stop me.  Meanwhile, native drivers head the wrong way on one-way streets, stop randomly and park anywhere at will.  In formerly tranquil towns like Ubud, this has been described as “it’s my village and I’ll drive as I want to” mentality (The Bali Post, 5/3/2010).  Many Balinese are blinded by their resentment, and easily bought by quick money.  This short sightedness has forfeited the long-term security and the natural beauty of an island and its people.



The situation is not all bleak. I have been heartened to find successful sustainable practices on Bali.  Biorock and the Global Coral Reef Alliance (GCRA) have developed a system to counter the reef devastation that has been a very serious problem on Bali.  Coral mining and coastal development have led to erosion, and recent reef damage has been attributed to the “use of bombs and cyanide by fishermen, excessive high water temperatures linked to global warming, and other stresses” (GCRA, 2010).  GCRA’s work has resulted in reef growth, the return of marine life, changes in the fishing industry, and reef and coastline education.  The Pemuteran coral regeneration program is the largest reef rebuilding project in the world, and has just been nominated for an international ecotourism award.

This past Earth Day, 200 Balinese children cleaned their local beach (Bali Discovery News, 5/17/2010b), demonstrating environmental awareness that hasn’t existed on Bali.  It had been common to see garbage floating on the water as Indonesians would simply throw trash overboard from the ferry.  A beach clean-up marks an era of new understanding.

Lastly, I find the willingness of President Yudhoyono to acknowledge the corruption related to rampant deforestation encouraging.  He is revealing a dark underbelly of the Indonesian government in a very public forum.  This alone is significant, as the President has now become more vulnerable to international pressure—we can hope.  President Yudhoyono is pro-growth, but “more” does not seem possible.  Perhaps he may find value in restraint and the understanding of “enough”.


Bali is a rich culture that has adopted a big-box value mentality.  According to Princen, “efficiency drives production.”  This more-for-less concept results in abundant products at lower prices so more consumers are needed to “justify [the existence of] that production” (Princen, 2005, p.344).  As we’ve seen, the idea of “more” in the short term is not necessarily more efficient in the long term.  It also demonstrates ecological irrationality.  Many of Bali’s problems are related to overpopulation, mass tourism and political corruption.  It appears as though these problems could be alleviated, and perhaps reversed, if Bali were to embrace principles of sufficiency and sustainability into all of their affairs.  Related to tourism, I believe efforts to fill surplus accommodations are misplaced.  The industry and the people would benefit from focusing on fewer visitors with greater depth.  Restraint exercised in the tourist sector would result in a smaller environmental impact, visitors gaining a deeper cultural experience—and spending more money.  As a result, good business will profit and wages will improve along with societal well-being.  Moderation is the first condition for change to critical environmental threats.  The idea of sufficiency establishes principles of management.  According to Princen, sufficiency is the ethic for sustainability (Princen, 2005, p.19) and sustainability is a viable policy goal.

Prioritizing quality and diversity in decision making from a long-term orientation are essential to development.  Bali has demonstrated that their tourism growth strategy has failed in the past.  During turbulent periods such as the Asian Crisis and the terrorist bombings, Bali didn’t have other industrial sectors to carry them.  Land use decisions were made from a short-term orientation that had devastating effects on their agriculture industry.  Those land use decisions also resulted in worker displacement and underemployment.  A mono industry focus has proven to be dangerous, in the case of the bombings–disastrous.  Diversity will develop both the economy and the environment, which in turn will support the people of Bali.

The level of corruption on Bali is boggling, but approachable on a local level.  In fact, it will take a village—a civically involved, democratically liberated village.  At the heart of Balinese culture are traditional villages.  They provide structure, laws, mediation and social capital.  People invested in their village are accountable.  Generations of pro-growth policies have splintered the traditional villages while Balinese youth left for the urban centers seeking opportunity.  Opportunities can be created locally, offering reason for people to return to their ancestral land, or to create new villages where they are.  Communities in tourist destinations should benefit from tourism, not be victimized by it.  One way of doing so was exemplified in Kenya.  Referencing stakeholders theory, locally managed ecotourism projects engage the community and receive wide support.  A current local model is GCRA’s reef rebuilding project in the Pemuteran community.  It provides jobs and offers training for a myriad of skill sets, while educating both children and old fishermen.  These community benefits are in addition to actively reversing reef damage.  Their motivation was similar to the Latin American ecotour programs of the 1970s who wanted to provide alternatives to environmentally destructive industrial practices and begin to repair the damage.

The stakeholder theory applied to policy, planning and management will develop or revive other industries as well.  The significant element is that a village becomes invested in their local industry, preventing foreign leakage and generating local wealth and security.  Imagine an island where the security of its residents was deemed to be the primary concern of legislators.  What kind of world would we create if this became the widespread pattern for policy making?  Eden, for sure.

 “It is therefore fitting that now the Island of Bali is not an “island paradise.”

Paradise, or heaven, cannot stand alone. Where there is a heaven there is also always a hell. The existence of prostitution, gigolos, pollution, salt water intrusion into the water table, slums, rabies, AIDS, narcotics, dengue fever, robberies, rape, free-sex and other negative social phenomena are all part of this “hell.”

If you can’t abide by the character of “hell,” then don’t try to create a heaven.

This is a basic part of the dialectic rules embraced by the Bali Hindu concept of Rwa Bineda.”

Dr. I Wayan Windia of Bali’s Udayana University’s Agriculture Faculty.



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GCRA, The Global Coral Reef Alliance. (2010)

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News Articles

Bali Discovery News.  (5/17/2010).  “Bali’s Role in Generating Foreign Exchange”

Bali Discovery News.  (5/17/2010b).  “A Shore Thing for North Bali Kids: Teaching Children at Pemuteran, North Bali to Care for the Island’s Shorelines and Reefs”

Jarrett, Ian  (5/17/2010).  “Bali on the Brink of Destroying the Dream”.  Travel Mole.  Perth: website

Bali Discovery News.  (5/10/2010).  “Building Tourism Bridges with Australia: Indonesian Tourism Sales Mission to Australia to Include Large Bali Delegation Promoting Sports and Well Being.”

Bali Discovery News. (5/8/2010).  “3-Year Tourist Visas for Japanese.  Proposal to Provide 3 year Tourist Visas to Japanese Gets Support from BTB, Bali Tourism Authority and PHRI”.  (5/8/2010)

Bali Discovery News.  (4/10/2010). “Louts, Bogans, and Yobbos Not Welcome in Bali”.  Reprinted from The West Australian.

Bali Discovery News.  (4/10/2010).  “In Bali, it Takes a Village: The Village is the Law in Bali Traditional Settings.”

Bali Discovery News. (3/9/2010).  “An Oversupply of Accommodation in Bali: Bali Hotel and Restaurant Association Says 100% Oversupply of Rooms Sets the Stage for Unhealthy Price Competition.”

The Bali Post. (5/3/2010).  “Will Tourists Abandon Ubud?”

The Bali Post. (3/1/2010).  “Enough is Enough in Karangasem: Bali Lawmaker in Karangasem Claims Hotel and Restaurant Sector is Overbuilt.”

The Bali Times.  (4/9/2010).  “President Adds Illegal Loggers to ‘Mafia’ List”

The Jakarta Post.  (5/3/2010).  “High and Dry. Udayana University Study: Bali Faces Severe Water and Food Shortages.”

The Jakarta Post.  (3/20/2010)  “Bali Standing in Place of Drifting Backwards?”

MSNBC.  (2/2/2010)  “Oops!  180 villas built in protected forest.  Indonesia vows to investigate; owned by senior officials?”

Windia, Dr. I Wayan.  Translated by Bali Discovery News.  (5/8/2010b). “Gigolos in Bali: A Balinese Perspective on Sex Tourism and Kuta Beach Cowboys.”  Op-ed article originally printed by BisnisBali written by Dr. I Wayan Windia of Bali’s Udayana University’s Agriculture Faculty