Two press reports in local papers recently caught our attention; fueling latent fears that something is seriously wrong with the management of Bali's tourism product."Aloha 'oe You're Leaving Bali"
The first article related how, while opening a cultural festival in Nusa Dua, Indonesia's Minister of Culture and Tourism ordered Bali's Governor to urgently copyright all traditional forms of Balinese art to prevent the Island's cultural identity from being "stolen" by neighboring countries. Possibly prompted by a recent dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia over who truly owns a popular children's song warbled by the children of both countries, Minister Jero Wacik wishes reflects his desire to preserve Indonesia's rich heritage by bringing cultural pretenders to answer before the Courts.
The second, and at least to us - related, article announced the launch of five "Hawaiian luxury villas" by Kamuela Villas in the Seminyak area of Bali.
Book Em, Dano
Intrigued and more than a little confused, we resolved to find out what actually constitutes Hawaiian style branding in Bali. The Company's press release revealed that the new Hawaiian villas will offer an Ohana spirit or Hawaiian family-style atmosphere because, in the words of the Company's Executive Commissioner, "Hawaiian people are known for their friendliness and genuine warmth similar to the Indonesian people."
What a wonderful comfort this will be to Bali visitors to know that they can come to Bali confident in the knowledge that they will encounter friendly Indonesian villa staff trained to act just like friendly Hawaiian villa staff.
Bringing Coals to Newcastle?
While we have no desire to rain on anyone's luau, we can't help but ask what possesses investors to recreate a "Hawaiian atmosphere" on Bali an island voted time and again by Travel + Leisure Magazine as the world's best holiday destination? Or, perhaps more to the point, what motivates Bali's leaders to so readily ransom to investors the very reputation which has made the Island one of the world's most popular tourist destinations?
Pray, tell us, has Hawaii run so low on land or local charms that it must re-invent itself in far away places like Bali? Or, alternatively, has Bali's branding become so diluted that it needs to bolster its tourism fortunes with ukuleles, grass skirts and Don Ho style dinner shows?
Pardon the poor confused tourist sitting on a Bali beach, feeling he has somehow been cast in the wrong motion picture . . . "Please, Nyoman, pass some more poi."
Bapak Mantra, We Miss You!
Gone forever, it seems, are the days when the late and very popular Governor Ida Bagus Mantra stood jealous guard over Bali's culture, requiring tourism investors to only erect Balinese-style buildings, reverently maintain Balinese temples on their premises and dress their staffs in traditional Balinese costumes.
There will be those who discount our concerns, insisting Bali is unfolding exactly as it should and, in any case, it's not the concern of non-Balinese "outsiders" to try to arbitrate the nature of Bali's future cultural complexion.
And, to be sure, such arguments are not wrong. Only the Balinese own the local beachhead; and, only the Balinese can decide when to draw a line in the sand, declaring "enough is enough" in the slippery slide to cultural marginalization.
You Don't Know What You've Lost 'Till it's Gone
In a week that heralded the arrival of "Hawaiian-style" villas in Bali and saw a developer knock down two Balinese temples to make way for a resort development, any talk about the need to preserve and protect Bali's endemic culture may be purely academic; a matter of "too little, too late."
With due respect to Minister Wacik, who is himself a son of Bali, the battle to sustain Bali's culture is not located in some Patent Attorney's office; but much closer at hand, raging right now on the island of his birth.
Bali's future path is increasingly uncertain, especially in light of the laisez faire pay-as-you-go attitude that governs tourism development on the Island.
By the way, can we ask a final small favor before you go?
Would the last person to leave the island of Bali please remember to turn off the lights?
You'll find the switch located under the sign at the airport that reads:
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