Bali must put a cap on the number of tourists allowed to visit the island, a former minister of tourism has stated.
“The island has limited natural resources, limited water resources, limited energy, which all translate into a limited carrying capacity, that’s why the island must enforce a limit on the number of tourists visiting the island,” said I Gede Ardika.
Ardika, who is now a member of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), echoed the warnings issued in the late 1990s by many of the island’s critical thinkers. The island’s lucrative tourism sector was experiencing its golden era at that time and public officials publicly dreamed of luring millions more foreign visitors.
Those thinkers stated that the mass-tourism approach would suck the island’s natural resources dry and the social and environmental costs such approach would inflict on the island and its people would dwarf the economic prosperity brought by tourism.
The perspective was not popular at that time. It is still not popular today.
The island now has around 60,000 hotel rooms and more than 10,000 rooms will be added by 2014. An increasing number of regencies are now considering tourism as the most viable method to boost income. In this climate, speaking about putting a cap on the number of tourists allowed to enter the island is tantamount to blasphemy.
It did not stop Ardika from pointing out that the local administration should protect the interests of the Balinese people. He warned that mass tourism would be likely to crush those interests.
“The Balinese are facing water shortages. If the island is swamped by tens of millions of visitors then what will happen to subak [traditional farming and irrigation]? The Balinese may end up buying bottled water for drinking and cooking,”
Ardika also pointed to the decreasing number of forested areas and the increasing rate of land conversion that sees hundreds of hectares of paddy field being transformed into housing and villas on an annual basis. The island, he stressed, was showing every imaginable sign of strained natural resources.
“The tourists visit this island not because it has luxurious facilities,” Ardika reminded. They came because the island offered a magnificent natural landscape and rich cultural heritage. Mass tourism threatened these two critical assets, he said
“A survey carried out by SCETO concludes that given its carrying capacity as a small island, Bali can only accommodate up to 4 million visitors per year. The presence of 4 million visitors would not marginalize the locals or pose a threat to their needs and interests,” he said, referring to the French tourism consultancy firm hired in the 1970s to devise a development plan for the island’s tourism.
The island was visited by around 2.7 million foreign tourists and 5.67 million domestic tourists last year, much higher than the SCETO recommendation and more than double the total population of the island, which in 2012 is almost 4 million.
“Unfortunately, the local development policies, such as the airport’s expansion and the toll-road construction, are still being designed to bring in as many tourists as possible. It is still about the numbers.”