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(1/4/2008) Recent press reports suggest that Malaysia's Tune Hotel Regional Services Sdn. Bhd - the hotel operations affiliate of the no-frills Air Asia, has Bali in its sights as part of a rapid expansion program to open a network of low-cost accommodation venues.
And, If the flag ship Tunes Hotel's in Kuala Lumpur is any indication of what lays ahead for Bali, then the Island will soon play host to a "very prominent" red-and-white painted building resembling a massive coca-cola can with windows (see illustration).
While new and well-promoted hotel investments are being sought as part of ongoing tourism development in Bali, the news of Tune Hotel's intent to make Bali one of its future destinations, should give pause to Bali's leaders, causing them to ensure the Island is not short-changed in any investment process.
While "cultural tourism" and "sustainable development" are the popular hue and cry in official tourism circles in Indonesia, the stark reality is that there's little regard for either culture or sustainability in how many permits and licenses are currently granted for new tourism-related investments.
If This is Tuesday, This Must be Bali
While countries such as Germany and France compel investors to honor local architectural and cultural values in their building plans, Bali's current "laissez faire" pay-as-you-go approach to working with investors have made parts of the Island indistinguishable from the busy high streets and strip-malls desecrating local landscapes around the world. And, like "everywhere else" - garish golden arches, coffee shops transplanted from Seattle and international doughnut chains now scream and shout their presence across Bali. The net result of such helter-skelter business expansion is a landscape increasingly devoid of any of the charms for which Bali was once famous.
It's sadly axiomatic that if a destination fails to manage its tourism intelligently, then future growth of its tourism products will have the cancerous potential of devouring and destroying that which attracted tourism to the destination in the first place.
While there is nothing intrinsically wrong or evil in modern theme and life-style hotels and eateries, their tendency to dominate the landscape against the continuing failure to manage and preserve Bali's cultural heritage may eventually render the Island a bad imitation of more "modern" ports of call.
Bali is the best Bali: incapable of imitation. If, however, we succumb to cultural appeasement on every front, then Bali is destined to become a second-rate Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong.
Because of this, Bali desperately needs to asses its cultural assets and their long-tern sustainability against investors desires to re-create Bali into what they naively see as their "new and improved" image for the island.
Cultural Modifiers Beware: If it Ain't Broke, Don't Fix it!
This coca-colonization of Bali promising a "seamless" experience from a no-frill airplane to a no-frill hotel promotes an international corporate culture over and above the fragile endemic culture of the destination. Psychedelic paint schemes may represent a proven formula, benefiting the bottom-line of Air Asia and Tune Hotels, but such a cookie-cutter tourism experience contributes little to current efforts to celebrate, preserve and publicize Bali's unique identity to the world.
We'd like to give the innovative and dynamic Datuk Tony Fernandez – the brilliant man behind Air Asia and Tune Hotels, the benefit of the doubt. We'd also like to assume he shares our deep admiration for the Balinese people and their rich and ancient culture. Hopefully, any hotel he may eventually decide to develop in Bali places the Island's cultural character ahead of any dearly-held corporate life-style mantra.
The recent advent of new hotels in Bali named after a Los Angeles suburb or offerings for Hawaiian-style villas, suggest Bali may be in danger of losing its precious cultural identity. If current development trends are allowed to continue unchecked, Bali's unique cultural branding - hundreds of years in the making - will be lost forever unless local developers aren't counseled and, when necessary, compelled to do nothing that potentially detracts from Bali's cultural identity.