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Creating a New Version of Paradise

The island of Bali has long been characterized in the West as the last "paradise" on earth a traditional society insulated from the modern world and its vicissitudes, whose inhabitants are endowed with exceptional artistic talents and consecrate a considerable amount of time and wealth staging sumptuous ceremonies for their own pleasure and that of their gods - now also for t1me delectation of foreign visitors.

This image is due in large part of course to the positive effect Bali's manifold charms have on visitors, but we should recognize that it is also the result of certain- romantic Western notions about what constitutes a "tropical island paradise" in the first place. Moreover, we need to understand that Bali's development into a popular tourist destination has been the result of specific actions and decisions on the part of governing authorities.

Colonial beginnings

To become an important tourist destination, Bali had to fulfill two conditions. Firstly, an island which had previously been known mainly for the "plunderous salvage" of shipwrecks and "barbarous sacrifice" of widows on the funeral pyre had to instead become an object of curiosity for Westerners in search of the exotic. Secondly, the island had to be made accessible. Barely a decade after the Dutch conquest of the island around the turn of this century, both conditions were met.

It was in 1908, just after the fall of Bali's last raja, that tourism in the Indonesian archipelago had its beginnings. In this year, an official government Tourist Bureau was opened in the colonial capital of Batavia, now Jakarta, with the aim of promoting the Netherlands Indies as a tourist destination. Initially focusing on Java, the Bureau soon extended its scope to Bali - then described in its brochures as the "Gem of the Lesser Sunda Isles."

In 1924, the Royal Packet Navigation Company (KPM) inaugurated a weekly steamship service connecting Bali's north coast port of Buleleng (Singaraja) with Java (Batavia, Surabaya) and Makassar (now Ujung Pandang, on Sulawesi). Shortly there after, the Kpm agent in Buleleng was appointed as the Tourist Bureau's representative on Bali, and the government began allowing visitors to use the rest houses or pasanggrahan originally designed to accommodate Dutch functionaries on their periodic rounds of the island.

In 1928, the KPM erected the Bali Hotel in Denpasar - the island's first real tourist hostelry - on the very site of the puputan massacre and mass suicide of 1906. Following this, the KPM also upgraded the pasanggrahan at Kintamani, which from then on hosted tourists who came to enjoy the spectacular panoramas around Lake Batur.

Early visitors to Bali sometimes arrived aboard a cruiser that berthed at Padangbai for one or two days, but more often aboard the weekly KPM steamship via Buleleng. Passengers on this ship usually disembarked on Friday morning and departed aboard the same boat on Sunday evening, giving them just enough time to make a quick round of the island by motorcar. The number of people visiting Bali in this way each year increased steadily, from several hundred in the late 1920s to several thousand during the 1930s.

With the landing of Japanese troops at Sanur in 1942, tourism in Bali came to an abrupt halt, and recovery after the war was slow. In fact, right up until the late 1960s, Balinese tourism was severely hampered by the rudimentary state of the island's infrastructure and by unsettling political events in the nation's capital. Yet President Sukarno adopted Bali as his favorite retreat (his mother was Balinese) and made it a showplace for

state guests. Eager to use the fame of the island to attract foreign tourists, he undertook construction of a new international airport in Tuban and the prestigious The Grand Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur - the latter financed with Japanese war reparation funds. Opened in 1966, and rebuilt in 1994, the Bali Beach remains a major landmark and the tallest building on Bali.

The master plan

When General Suharto became President of the Republic in 1967, his New Order government rapidly moved to re-open Indonesia to the West. This move coincided with a period of high growth in international tourism, and from this time onward tourism expanded rapidly in Bali.

This development was the direct result of a decision made by the government in their First Five-Year Development Plan (Repelita 1, 1969-74), primarily in order to address a pressing national balance of payments deficit. Bali's prestigious image, formed during the prewar years, meant that the island naturally became the focus of tourism development in Indonesia.

Accordingly, the government heeded the advice of the World Bank and commissioned a team of French experts to draw up a Master Plan for the Development of Tourism in Bali. Their report, published in 1971 and revised in 1974 by the World Bank, proposed the construction of a new 425-hectare tourist resort at Nusa Dua and a network of roads linking major attractions on the island.

With the Master Plan's official promulgation by Presidential Decision in 1972, tourism was ranked second only to agriculture in economic priority in the province. Thereafter the number of tourists visiting Bali each year grew dramatically, from fewer than 30,000 in the late 1960s to over a million by the early 1990s. And these figures do not even take into account the steadily increasing numbers of Indonesians visiting Bali - estimated at over 1 million in 1995.

During the same period, total hotel capacity increased from less than 500 rooms to over 25,000 - about half of them in larger hotels concentrated around Nusa Dua and Sanur. The Nusa Dua project, in particular, was supported by a substantial loan from the International Development Association, budgetary allocations from the government, and access to cheap credit from state banks.

The Master Plan was designed to attract tourists in the upper-income range who were expected to stay at luxury hotels. But it turned out that a considerable proportion of visitors were not of the target group but comprised young, low-cost travelers staying in small home stays and budget accommodations. As

the Balinese have been quick to adapt to this unexpected clientele - for years derogatorily described as "hippies" - new resorts have sprung up at places like Kuta, Ubud, Lovina and Candidasa. Whereas the large hotels are owned and operated for the most part by non Balinese companies, many of them foreign, the smaller tourist accommodations and related services in these areas are mostly Balinese owned, with close links to the local economy.

This rather neat division between luxury and budget tourist areas is rapidly changing. In 1988, alleging the pressure of demand, the governor designated 15 tourist areas around the island, thus in effect lifting the regional restrictions imposed by the Master Plan, which had prohibited the building of large hotels outside of Nusa Dua, Sanur and Kuta. Currently there is a frenzy of investment an development all over the island by Balinese as well as outside interests.

Tourism: bane or boon?

One significant result of all this has been spectacular economic growth on Bali, so that the province now has one of the highest average income levels in all of Indonesia, with more automobiles per capita in Denpasar than. in the nation's capital. Another highly visible result has been the ever-accelerating physical transformation of the island - as more and more hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops dot the landscape.

Not all the changes have been positive, of course. While the resorts employ local staff, they are mostly low-skilled, and many of the tourist dollars end up in Jakarta or overseas. Land prices have soared in many areas, and rural Balinese have often sold their lands to Investors below market values. Agricultural output is falling, as more and more farm land is given over to tourism developments, and environmentalists warn that if the present pace continues the island will face critical shortages of water on top of already serious problems of erosion and pollution.

More difficult to assess, however, is the impact of tourism on Balinese society and culture, and opinions on this subject are as contradictory as they are passionate. Many foreign visitors, after only a day or two on the island, are quick to assure you that Bali is finished - almost. The Balinese, so the story goes, have been thoroughly corrupted by tourist dollars and the entire island is up for sale. Authentic traditions are being packaged to conform to tourist expectations, legendary Balinese artistry is being harnessed to create souvenir trinkets, and age-old religious ceremonies are being turned into hotel floor shows. In short, tourism is engulfing Bali, and the island's culture cannot survive much longer. So hurry up and see what you can next year may be too late.

Other observers, who deem themselves better informed, will counter that this kind of apocalyptic attitude is neither very accurate nor even very new. Travel narratives penned during the 1930s tell a similar tale, they say - these authors having already persuaded themselves that they were witnessing the swan-song of Bali's traditional culture, while in fact that culture is as vibrant as ever, with tourism now sparking a cultural renaissance of sorts by providing the Balinese with much needed economic outlets for their considerable artistic talents.

This view is reinforced, in turn, by deeply rooted assumptions about the resilience of Balinese culture. Indeed, the Balinese have been universally praised for their ability to borrow foreign influences that suit them while maintaining their own unique identity. Witness, for example, the blend of Hindu Javanese and indigenous ideas that inspire current Balinese religious practices. Today, so the argument goes, the Balinese are coping with the tourist invasion of their island by taking advantage of their culture's appeal without sacrificing their basic values on the altar of monetary profit.

What the Balinese think

Faced with such contradictory statements by foreigners, it is interesting to examine how the Balinese themselves feel about the tourist "invasion." To tell the truth, the Balinese did not really have a say in the decision of the central government to trade on their island's charms in order to refill the coffers of the state, and they were never consulted about the Master Plan. Presented with a fait accompli, they attempted to appropriate tourism in order to reap its economic benefits. In 1971, Balinese authorities proclaimed their own conception of the kind of tourism they deemed suitable to their island - namely a "Cultural Tourism" (Pariwisata Budaya) that is respectful of the values and artistic traditions which brought fame to the island in the first place.

From the start, the Balinese have evinced an ambivalent attitude towards tourism, which they perceived as being at once filled with the promise of prosperity and yet fraught with danger. The foreign invasion was seen to contain the threat of "cultural pollution" which might destroy those very traditions which provided Bali's main attraction for tourists.

By official accounts, Cultural Tourism has achieved its mission, reviving Balinese interest in their traditions while reinforcing a sense of cultural identity. In actual fact, Balinese culture has neither been "destroyed" nor "revived" by tourism, and tourism should not even been seen as an "external force" striking Bali from the outside. Over the years tourism has instead become an integral part of Balinese society and economy. Even more important, moreover, is the fact that tourism is only one of many factors bringing about rapid change on the island. Other equally important ones are mass education, mass media and rising expectations among the young.

In effect, a new Balinese culture and identity is now emerging that is an amalgamation of all sorts of influences, from inside Bali as well as from the outside. The major contribution of foreigners has perhaps been to make the Balinese aware of the fact that they are the lucky owners of something precious and perishable called "culture." Yet they are also increasingly viewing this heritage as something that is detachable from themselves something that can be photographed, staged, promoted, reproduced and sold.

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