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Editorial: But, Really, Professor ...

Bali Update Suggests A Local Environmentalist May Have Missed the Point Completely in His Call for an End to Tourism Promotion.

(12/17/2001) Those who live in the ivory towers of academia sometimes become severely out of touch with reality, espousing nonsense parading as learned theory. A risk in any academic setting, there is perhaps an even greater risk of this occuring in Indonesia where cultural mores dictate the man at the front of the classroom should never be questioned or challenged.

A case in point is the recent press report in the Bali Post quoting Drs. I Nyoman Sunarta M. Si, the Secretary of the Center for Environmental Studies at Bali's Udayana University, who demanded Bali "stop tourism promotion if it really wants to save the environment." He went on to explain how his "call to inaction" was a necessary step to "stagnate" tourism growth in Bali and thereby allow the enforcement of environmental safeguards and regulations already in place.

Decrying the lack of environmental consciousness among the people of Bali and the officials entrusted to enforce planning rules, Drs. Sunarta suggests that by stopping tourism development, Bali could use the "stagnation period" to set about making the residents of the island better environmental citizens.

But, Really, Professor ...

Aside from the glaring naiveté of believing that the forces that drive development are so easily halted, Drs. Sunarta's period of stagnation - if introduced - would more than likely accelerate environmental decline and result in more, not less, damage to Bali's natural environment.

Ironically, the proof underlining the folly of this position can be found in Bali's current situation where, one could argue, that organized promotion of the island's tourism product has in fact been largely absent for almost 3 years. This situation, almost the epitome of Drs. Sunarta's plan for environmental preservation, has not managed to stagnate development but, instead, seen bureaucratic corruption and the readiness to bend planning rules reach heretofore unknown heights.

Dr. Sunarta's analysis fails to contemplate that short of closing Bali's borders completely, tourism development and change will continue apace in Bali with or without promotion. Existing investments in world airlines, cruise ships, hotels and supporting tourism companies represent an array of synergies that once established create a survival imperative. Left to struggle on without the support of state-sponsored destination promotion, these companies will do what they must to carry on, including cut throat discounting undertaken at the cost of environmental and product degradation.

The Real Issue: Carrying Capacity

Clearly, Bali's unique culture and environment does not have an unlimited capacity to absorb tourism numbers. Proof of such natural limitations are already on the horizon: Bali's Ngurah Rai Airport has limited options for expanding to handle more flights; roads now become crowded with air quality suffering during high tourist seasons; and the island's landmark paddy terraces increasingly succumb to shops and hotels.

In wakes of self-pity and head shaking, we decry the aftermath of such wholesale destruction, all agreeing that there must be "a limit" to growth. But please remember just one thing, make sure that any such limit does not interfere with our shared desire to sell familial land to a foreigner at inflated prices or any latent desire to become rent takers from a row of shopkeepers now in business where Bali's ancestors once farmed rice.

"Gue-Gue-Lu-Lu"

Locally dubbed as the "gue-gue-lu-lu" or "me-me-you-you" approach to selling Bali's soul and heritage, nobody seems prepared to accept any external limitations to the personal greed which fires the island's current unhappy state of affairs.

Someday, Bali will possess leaders with the vision and courage to undertake a study to determine the implications and impose absolute limits to growth. Someday, those same leaders will be prepared to introduce and enforce strict guideline that will ensure the island's children a future with the promise of a reasonable quality of life.

Someday. But, apparently, not any day soon.

For Now - More Promotion is Better than Less

Like it or not, recent world events and the limited capacity of key infrastructure items - such as Bali's airport, do impose absolute limits to tourism growth on the island. And, at least on that level, there is the promise of the stagnation that Drs. Sunarta so adamantly desires.

Given this natural limit to growth, Bali's only sensible development policy is to promote itself heavily, maximizing the number of tourist visitors with the highest average per diem expenditure and the longest average length of stay as a means to maximize revenues and tax dollars in Bali's current context of limited supply of tourism product.

Drs. Sunarta's ludicrous suggestion to stop tourism promotion would only guarantees a continuation of the status quo: members of the tourism community competing ruthlessly for tourists - a group declining steadily both in terms of quantity and quality.