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Guest Editorial: Which Path Will Bali Take?

An Australian Tourism Development Professional Continues the Examination of Bali's Fragile Future With a Rejoinder to Graham Hornel's Editorial of Last Week.

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It is perhaps timely that in light of the tragic events of September 11, destinations such as Bali take the opportunity to review and reassess their place in the tourism world. What type of visitor experience will Bali be seeking to offer in five years time? Will it be similar in terms of mass-market appeal with a spattering of high yield, niche market elements or will it have shifted focus to carve out a special place in the global visitor market.

I noted with much interest Graham Hornel's commentary (Bali Update #276, 12/31/2001) regarding the carrying capacity issues facing Bali and its direct link to sustainability and other management practices. Clearly it is decision time for the tourism 'planners' and all those with a passion for Bali and its wonderful assets. This message was bluntly reinforced to me on my recent field trip to Bali.

As a regular visitor to Bali over the past seven years, I have noted the demise in some aspects of the 'Bali experience' - overcrowding, traffic congestion, pollution etc. The 'experience' is taking on a whole new meaning. This became more evident whilst I was interviewing a number of key industry personnel as part of the research for my Masters thesis. Consistently, respondents mentioned the desperate need for better planning, management and development regimes. These industry leaders are all too aware that the popular catch phrases of "sustainable tourism development," "best practice" and the "triple bottom line" must be seriously investigated in the next short period or Bali faces a rather gloomy future as a visitor destination. This has obvious repercussions for the community.

History tells us that it is not that difficult for a popular destination, site or visitor node to be literally "loved to death". The Mediterranean is confronted with this problem after decades of sustained visitor demands. The World Heritage Daintree Rainforests of Far North Queensland constantly face this challenge at both a macro (destination) and micro (site-specific) level. Over the past 10 years, the government has channeled significant resources into broad planning and management exercises with support from the private sector in an effort to provide a framework for sustainable tourism development. There are abundant examples; this is not unchartered territory.

So where does Bali stand in this context? If those on the ground are to be believed, it's stumbling towards the tourism abyss and is in real need of a "vision" for the long-term development of tourism on the island. It is evident from my experience with the destination that the industry is desperate for the Indonesian Government, at a local and national level, to act and act now. The problems and challenges are obvious to the industry, community and, yes, to the visitor at an increasing rate.

There are real limits to the capacity of destinations and sub-destinations to cope with the increased pressure from constant human impact. If you develop and promote a predominantly volume visitor destination with a historically strong brand and image, there comes a time when you confront the crossroads with respect to long-term viability of the destination.

My observations place Bali at this cross road or at least extremely close, in urgent need of a 'visioning' and a regional tourism planning exercise. I would propose it is the government's responsibility to resource, coordinate and manage the framework for this strategic planning exercise. That is, provide leadership. Otherwise I must concur with Mr. Hornel's bleak outlook.

The question now is, which path will Bali take?

Andrew Sivijs is a Masters candidate for Business Management at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is Principal Project Officer for the Queensland Government developing the Queensland Heritage Trails Network.

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