Friday, July 15, 2005

The tourism industry

The Bali Post reported in February that 85% of the more than US$16,000 million invested in Bali's tourism industry was in foreign hands. The editorial called for freehold title to be replaced with 20 year leaseholds.

It is as well to remember that disparities between wealth and poverty in Bali are probably as great as anywhere in the world, and are uglier than ever because the world's most wealthy come to Bali to stay in the greatest luxury available anywhere, with the expectation of splurging, the imperative to cram the good times into their few week vacation from salarymandom. The wealth is obvious enough. The poverty is there; even in a place as small as Bali the touristed areas are like ant-trails, and like the rest of the world, great swathes of the place miss out on the crumbs which fall away from the foreign owners of the industry.

The website of the East Bali Poverty Project records:
"In 1998, thousands of people in a village of 19 isolated hamlets high up the steep and arid mountains of North-East Bali lived in abject poverty without roads, water, sanitation, adequate nutrition, health and education facilities, and hope. Children were the main victims: over 80% were malnourished and had goitre due to iodine deficiency, and 70-100% were illiterate in the 1,000+ families highest up the mountains.

Life had been this way for as long as they could remember. Their dwellings, mostly single rooms with bamboo walls and dirt floors, are scattered over 7,000 hectares of land: isolated one from another.

Farming practices remained archaic: the only crops they knew that could adapt to the steep slopes and dry land are cassava and corn. Cassava unfortunately is a threat to health if is the staple, breaking down iodine and thus contributing to the high incidence of iodine deficiency disorders."
And then there is the haggling; not just any haggling, but the miserable pommy backpacker haggling. When I arrive in Bali, I intend to record some examples of truly miserable haggling and post the recordings as audio posts.

Tourism is going gangbusters, hitting record levels (700,000 tourist arrivals in the last half year for the first time ever), despite travel warnings to avoid inessential travel to Bali such as Australia's, and it is the high end luxury villa market which is taking off. Upper middle-class America's Travel & Leisure magazine has again voted it the "best island". Bali hotels are continually being voted best in the world by the same well-heeled well-bellied folks (particularly the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay and at Sayan, and the Amandari, the latter two both near Ubud). Bali Eats chronicles a cornucopia of extraordinary new dining options, the Thai revolution being the one sweeping through just now. The 2005 target is to have 1.7 million tourists. The idea is to take new business from China and Russia, which generate 20 million foreign tourists between them. Tourism to Indonesia is the second largest non oil and gas foreign exchange earner for Indonesia after textiles and the garment industry.

Agricultural land is being used up by new tourism developments at the rate of about 850,000 square metres or a bit less than a hectare a month according to the Bali Post. Coastline too is being used up by coral destruction, uncontrolled sand mining, destruction of mangrove forests, and constructing buildings too close to the shoreline. Seventy kilometres of Bali's 530 km shoreline has been destroyed, and only 38 km is being managed. There is no beach at Candi Dasa on the east coast because the coral reef just offshore was used in the 1970s to make cement to build hotels. In 1999, the province passed Provincial Law 99 which prohibited construction within 100 metres of the high-tide mark, but provided for the corrruption-friendly exception in the case of "the public interest" with predictable results.

A Bolshie proposal was put up by the head of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association: stop trucking music and dance troupes into Kuta hotels in open trucks and paying them $US1 to $US2 each for the night, and require travellers to visit villages, to which such performances ought be restricted.


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