Can the “Real Bali” be Saved?
For those of you visiting Bali for the first time, welcome and enjoy yourselves to the absolute maximum! Bali is a marvelous place to have a holiday and I certainly don’t want to scare you off. We need more visitors to come and enjoy the beauty of this magical island. And you will!
But, and there always is a ‘but’ isn’t there, Bali ain’t what it used to be, and is in danger of changing from the “Bali we want it to be” if we are not very, very careful.
Bali, in the minds of millions of tourists and armchair tourists around the world, is the epitome of tropical, exotic travel, where beautiful native girls dance to the hypnotic pounding of gongs in temples and palaces surrounded by lush terraces of paddy fields, and palm trees wave in the gentle breezes as the sunset cocktails are sipped. Idyllic indeed!
The reality is that while that aspect is still (just) available, an absolute army of developers, traders, retailers, restauranters and industrialists are doing everything they can to dig up pristine Bali while still using the exotic Bali image they are destroying to sell their wares! And it’s happening quickly.
Just 25 years ago Bali was still the green, lush island that we (or at least I) want it to be. Now it’s disappearing behind a mass of billboards, shop houses, high rise malls, villa developments (with 20m high walls), and it seems we are powerless to stop it. Why?
It appears that even at the highest levels there is no connection between the preservation (never mind protection, enhancement, and improvement) of the tourism product and the every day unplanned development that continues unabated.
Bali, after two sad and meaningless bombings, has lost much of its appeal in the tourist markets of the world and arrivals are at a very low ebb. Does that mean the authorities take a long hard look at what the island has become and start to put things right? It seems not. The building of ‘rukos’ (shop houses) continues unabated, the proliferation of incredibly unsightly billboards accelerates, the destruction of beautiful farmland for ‘un-necessary’ housing rockets forward, and roads are pushed into fields and immediately lined with low quality buildings (which should be zoned off into industrial estates).
Until now, from Canggu to Jimbaran, from Sanur to Nusa Dua, there is hardly a visible trace of ‘Bali’: only buildings, workshops, showrooms, factories, billboards, and offices. All of them ‘businesses’ that depend on having a dynamic, desired tourism product called Bali
Yet there are regulations, which I believe still exist, that say every building must reflect Balinese culture and tradition, that no building should be higher than a coconut tree, and that all buildings and developments should respect Balinese traditions and community needs first. This simply is not being enforced at all and in my opinion presents more danger to the future of Bali tourism than the threat of terrorism ever will.
There are millions of sea, sand and sun, fun, food, and frolic destinations around the world, cheaper and closer to main markets and with little to distinguish them except the price and the temperature. This is not what Bali should be, but as we watch and do nothing that’s what it is turning into—quickly.
Bali is, and must always be, a place where tradition should take precedence over development, where culture must take the nod over shopping, where nature must win over malls, where gamelan gets the license not discos, where not one more square meter of productive, beautiful paddy field is turned into villas.
If not, we’ll be sitting here in 10 years time with a million villas, all of them bought by people “looking for Bali” and finding nothing but fast food, malls, traffic jams, discos, restaurants, more shops, more offices and more motorbikes than they left behind in the ‘industrialized’ west.
Does anyone care? I hope so, and that as millions of dollars are being spent to lure people back to Bali, equal amounts of money –or at least energy– can be spent preserving the beauty, tradition, culture and heritage of this marvelous and irreplaceable island. Because once it’s gone, we won’t get it back.
by Alistair Speirs [Managing Director, Indo Multi Media, Indonesia]