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Ticking Time Bomb Under Bali Tourism

Bali tourism has slowly been recovering from the suicide bombings in 2002 that took the lives of 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. Thanks to political instability in Thailand, Bali welcomed a record 2.2 million foreign tourists in 2009. The Balinese government aims to break this record in 2010, hoping to receive between 2.3 and 2.5 million foreign tourists.

For an island of 5,636 square kilometers with over 3 million inhabitants, this level of mass tourism stretches its carrying and recovery capacity to the maximum. Tourists have been complaining about dirty beaches, stinking rivers and diarrhea caused by contaminated water. Raw sewage pollutes the rivers because the island lacks sufficient sewage plants to treat the wastewater from the growing number of hotels and restaurants. The State Water Board is unable to supply sufficient water and there are frequent electrical blackouts. In addition, Bali’s airport has recently been voted by Travel + Leisure magazine as among the “world’s ugliest airports.”

Bali activist and anthropologist Wayan Geriya has been warning authorities for years about the harmful effects of the mismanagement of Bali tourism. Quoted in the newspaper Radar Bali, he lays the blame mainly on the orientation of Bali tourism toward quantity before quality. The international tourism image of Bali as an island of unlimited plenty does not correspond with the local reality.

Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, chairman of the Bali Tourism Board, supports Geriya’s critique of the current tourism orientation. He has been pleading for increased efforts in the upgrading of tourist sites and less emphasis on the search for new investments. Quoted in Tourism Indonesia, Wijaya argued, “What’s more pressing is the repair of tourism sites, not the building of villas and hotels.”

Change may be on the way. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) chose Bali for a pilot project to develop environmentally friendly tourism. “The concept encompasses reduction of carbon dioxide production, environmentally friendly investment, the use of alternative energy, preservation of biodiversity and other issues,” UNWTO Assistant Secretary General Geoffrey Lipman said during a presentation at the office of the Bali governor in November 2009. According to The Jakarta Globe, Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika hopes this opportunity will help the Balinese people reaffirm the importance of taking care of their environment.

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