Bali Loses its ‘Bliss’
WEST AUSTRALIANS’ FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION IS AT TIPPING POINT AND
BALI COULD BE SUFFERING TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
It all started three months ago with an article in Time Magazine saying
Bali was a ‘hell-hole’ of filth, polluted waterways and poor infrastructure.
Now Bali has been ‘hit’ with an earthquake, the arrest of a 14 year-old
NSW boy on drugs charges, the bashing of Eagles star, Dean Laidley at a popular
Kuta Beach night club, and then there was a young woman from Newcastle
ending-up in coma after having her drink spiked with a lethal substance while
staying in nearby Lombok.
Not a good few months for Australia’s favourite piece of paradise; the
Island of the Gods, where you can usually enjoy great food, tasty beer, and
brilliant surf under a warm and clear sky for half the price of a local holiday
But Australians still love Bali.
The only problem is that now every other country wants to ‘love Bali’ as
A record 2.5 million visitors, led by Australians whose currency is near
a 13-year high against the Indonesian rupiah, are clogging roads, littering
beaches and straining water supplies, residents and hotel managers say.
As the government plans a $1.3 billion rail line and second airport to
spread tourism to less-developed areas, the head of the district around the
artistic center of Ubud said the pace of construction risks destroying the
culture that is key to Bali’s success.
"What we want for Bali in the future is quality tourism," said
Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, regent of Gianyar, in a home adorned with
sculptures of gods and life- sized replicas of now-extinct Balinese tigers.
"If we have a cup of tea, and we keep on putting more water on it,
eventually you cannot taste the tea. We’re worried that soon we may not be able
to taste we are in Bali anymore."
Compare the 2011 figures with 2002 after the terrible tragedy of the
Kuta bombing when just 900,000 tourists arrived and it gives some idea why the
island is almost ‘bursting’ at the seams.
A predominately Hindu enclave in Muslim-majority Indonesia, Bali has
drawn travelers since German painter Walter Spies moved there in 1927, becoming
a bellwether for economic wealth from surfers in the 1960s to Japanese golfers
in the 1980s.
Australian tourists in the first eight months of 2011 are set to exceed
last year’s total of about 648,000, which was about five times more than in
2006. Chinese visitors increased 484 percent in that time to 197,000, while
arrivals from Japan fell 4 percent, statistics from the Bali Tourism Board
And tourists arriving from Russia and Europe have seen significant
The boom in tourism has revived the economy of Bali and jobs are
The gain has helped the $7.4 billion economy grow at an average 6.5
percent since 2006.
But the good times are coming at a cost. Not only has Bali’s reputation
been badly shaken by the recent high-profile cases, a look at some of the
‘behind the scenes’ challenges facing the island community of three million
people, provides even more disturbing news:
Crime: Up 14.8 per cent.
Crime against tourists: Up 214per cent (Mainly bag snatching and ATM
Traffic Congestion: Just try driving from Kuta to Sanur these days.
Disease: Rabies and water-borne illnesses on the increase.
HIV up 19.5per cent.
Meanwhile, towering cranes dominate the Kuta Beach skyline as rampant
building of new hotels, restaurants and entertainment complexes continues to
boom — and continue to breach many local by-laws.
Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika in December has banned development
of new hotels in the three most-developed southern districts. Still, capacity
in hotels will grow by 3242 rooms, or 16 percent, to 23,500 rooms before the
end of 2012, according to a report by real estate agents Knight Frank.
The environment is now becoming increasingly under pressure. In
2009/2010, only 140 out of the 400 main river systems in Bali ‘functioned
normally’ according to university studies.
On Seminyak beach in the south, Australian tourist Peter Anyalai sits
under an umbrella, watching groups learn to surf, surrounded by discarded food
wrappers, cups and condoms, as foul-smelling water drains into the sea from the
"The sewage, the garbage, the smells are a major concern,"
said Anyalai, 56, who’s surfed there since 1977.
Biologists at the Udanyana University have also found pollutants ‘that
exceed international quality standards’ located at Legian, Kuta, Nusa Dua and
Jimbaran beaches. Massive pumping of ground water has caused seawater to
intrude into Bali’s water table affecting agriculture.
Many farmers – whose children have left the village farm – are now
selling their paddy field to developers for the purpose of building villas.
This is particularly worrying as Bali needs a diverse and multi-layered economy
involving not only tourism, but agriculture, manufacturing and the emerging
cosmetic surgery industry.
Elora Hardy, creative director of Ibuku, a company in the hills south of
Ubud that designs bamboo buildings, said rampant development threatened the
agrarian lifestyle of Bali’s mountainous interior that has attracted travelers
since the 1920s.
Charlie Chaplin, anthropologist Margaret Mead and Spies were among the
early visitors, while surfers followed in the 1960s. Within eight years of the
airport’s first international flight in 1966, Japanese developers had built
Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club’s 18-hole golf course in the mountains.
Now, busloads of tourists from China, Russia and South Korea traverse
the hilly streets of Ubud and haggle in the central market for sarongs and
wooden backscratchers. Merchants are trying to learn Chinese, said Wayan Aeka,
29, who has sold goods there since she was a child.
"Bali is beautiful and it’s cheap," said Ronnie Qi, a
37-year-old Shanghai shipping company worker on his first trip to the island,
as he walked through the market.
Hardy, who grew up in Bali and went to university in the US, said the
lack of roads outside the tourist area might help slow the pace of development.
"Traffic will save this island for the next few years," she said.
On a recent Friday night at Ku De Ta bar on Seminyak beach, hundreds of
tourists, wealthy Indonesians and expatriates gathered to watch the sunset and
sip $12 cocktails, three times the average daily earnings of the Balinese, as
the smell of sewage wafted in from the sea.
"It’s just taking the money, short-term thinking," said
Michael Pohorly, a representative with 61 Legian, which owns a complex of bars
and clubs across the street from the site of the 2002 blasts.
"The rice fields have been in existence for thousands of years, and
when they’re gone, they’re gone.
All of a sudden, Bali might be paved over."
So where to next for Bali?
The first thing we, in Australia need to do to help improve the image of
Bali is to start behaving ourselves when guests of these gentle and gracious
people. We all need a quick reality check about expecting that some of us can
fly-off to Bali, get drunk, take drugs, ride round on motor bikes bare-chested
and generally act in belligerent and disorderly way, and not be held
accountable. And we should stop blaming Bali every time we get ourselves into
trouble for doing things that would not be acceptable back home or in any other
In the meantime the Bali authorities need to improve management of this
The Bali governor, General Pastika faces challenges in enforcing
building laws, as Indonesia now embraces ‘regional autonomy’ – a process that
sees power transferred from the national government direct to the local shire
councils or regencies. It sounds a good idea, but often local councils in
Indonesia don’t have the expertise — or desire — to behave in the best
long-term interest of their communities. Meanwhile the Bali state government
finds itself powerless to override what would be normally considered poor
planning decisions at a local council level.
Despite regular calls from within Australia for us to cut aid to
Indonesia, Australian aid dollars can be used very effectively in building
‘capacity’ within local shire councils, thus reducing incompetence and
corruption; to strengthen provincial governments and to assist in developing
good building, traffic, water and rivers policy.
This will be good for Bali in the long-term, and it will also ensure
that in the future, our kids will be happy to send their children to experience
the joy that Bali will bring to so many Australians this year.
Ross B. Taylor