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Is the Tourist Always King?

Former Tourism Minister I Gede Ardika Calls for Culture and Village-Based Tourism in Bali.

(12/18/2011) A respected soldier in the field of national tourism has warned that Bali’s traditional villages should not become mere objects in the tourism product development process, but, rather, should become the very subject of tourism development. He also warned that Bali must cease becoming a culture in which all interest become secondary to pleasing the tourist visitor, often at the expense of values fundamental to the safekeeping and sustainability of Bali.

This warning and reminder was issued by the much respected former Minister of Culture and Tourism, I Gede Ardika, on Sunday November 27, 2011, at a seminar on “Developing the Creative Industry in Tourism Villages Based on Ecological Tourism.

Ardika feels that something has gone astray in Bali tourism where the tourist visitor and their wants and desires take precedence over all other considerations. In his view, this is at odds with the basic capital of Bali’s tourism, which is the “drawing power” of the island’s culture and Hindu heritage.

“All these things,“ explained Ardika, “are found in the traditional village (Desa Pakraman) setting in Bali. Because of this, when we develop tourism we must focus on developing activities within the Desa Pakraman.”

The daily activities of village life and the beauty of their natural settings can be presented as tourism objects. Ardika continued: “I am very optimistic that these villages can become the subject of Bali’s tourism – tourism based on culture. The culture of our people is dynamic and creative.”

Creativity, according to Ardika, is also owned by the people living in the villages and is not the exclusive domain of well-educated people living in the cities. The people living in the villages also have a unique ability to choose and discriminate among which elements of outside society have value and should be retained for the benefit of the community. “If we want to preserve the ‘natural fort’ of Bali, then, like it or not, we must involve the ‘desa pakraman ‘ because they are the last defense in protecting tradition and culture.” The former Minister explained he is not anti-investor, but insists that tourism must always bring some definitie benefit or profit to the needs of the people.

Explaining his view in more detail, Ardika said that the integration of the Desa Pakraman into the tourism industry was not meant to solicit donations from companies. Nor does Ardika see his desire for the traditional villages incorporation into tourism as a throwback to the past where villagers must work shirtless to fulfill the preconceived fantasy of the tourist visitors.

To Ardika's mind, culture is dynamic. The tools of agriculture can be modern when used in a traditional village setting. What’s important is that the atmosphere in the villages continues to reflect Bali’s cultural values, family spirit and the natural friendliness of the Balinese.

Ardika wants the unique qualities of Bali’s villages preserved in developing the island’s tourism, while at the same time paying attention to factors of cleanliness and health, reflecting the high values placed on clean and green living shared by each community.