Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Destination Management: A Crucial Problem for Bali

Destination Management: A Crucial Problem for Bali
Editorial: Local Tourism Figure Calls for Actions to Start Matching Words in Bali's Desire for Culture Tourism.

(8/11/2008) Berata Ashrama, a local writer, educator and Manager of Bali Travel News recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Bali Post on leadership issues surrounding Bali tourism. What follows is our free translation of those comments in's continuing efforts to provide insights into local views and news related to Bali tourism.

One of most crucial current problems confronting Bali is tourism destination management. This problem is crucial but at the same time laughable due to the fact that while Bali gives great voice to the principle of "cultural tourism" (Hindu) as it stands within a province sharing a single eco-system within its 5,632.86 square kilometers; the reality is that Bali operates with 10 separate and diverse "managers" spread across 9 regencies/municipalities, each reflecting the poorly coordinated and very oversized egos involved. This is very different from our neighbors in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore – countries that manage their destinations under the banners of MTB, TTB and STB.

This unfortunate reality is complicated further by a number of vertical institutions – such as Immigration, Angkasa Pura (airport management) and Garuda Indonesia. This complicated set of circumstances was made even more so during the recent reformation era which has been characterized by the fanatic exercise of authority and strong ambitions to increase regional tax revenues. At the same time, the understanding of what should constitute the vision of tourism varies greatly among managers. This has created a practical problem in arriving at a common language needed to translate a vision into action. In words, the "managers" are always adamant in proclaiming their commitment to making Bali's tourism industry sustainable. However, such proclamations are little more than lip service. These repeated clich├ęs create the false impression that an actual vision and commitment already exists. In fact, aggressive actions (by these managers) have stained Bali, sacrificed its unique selling proposition and, in the end, made Bali a destination of yesterday - a destination increasing unattractive to quality tourists. Such quality tourists with length of stays of more than 14 days; average spends of between US$5,000-US$12,000; little desire to destroy (local culture); individuals far removed from narcotics and sex tourism - no longer want to come to Bali, an island which is losing its cultural appeal. Bali has marginalized the Balinese people's role as a single, unified community of cultural actors. In other words, we have destroyed the main pillars of (Balinese) culture: tradition, cultural outlook, cultural characteristics, architectural style, the Hindu religion, traditional food, art and music, handicrafts, traditional costumes, history and the Balinese language. According to the U.N.'s World Tourism Organization it is precisely these elements which must be preserved through the active involvement of the local population in the planning, implementation and evaluation of (sustainable) tourism.

Symptoms of Verbalism

The aggressive destruction of these cultural elements has been taking place in the face of the contradictory verbalism (i.e. lips service) expressed by our "managers." We have managers who loudly shout their commitment to developing and defending the cultural values of their region but who, with no less enthusiasm, continue to issue building permits for strip malls, malls, supermarkets, and apartments for non-Hindu newcomers that forsake traditional architecture while eclipsing local agricultural lands. This happens despite the fact that architecture and agriculture are mainstays of cultural tourism. Bali's culture originates from its agricultural roots and it subak system of water management as a practical expression of the local philosophy of Tri Hita Kirana - the Balinese world-view maintaining harmony and balance between man, God and nature. Local traditional markets – the place where the majority of local small traders seek their livings, have become "bonsai" (marginalized) versions of themselves, much celebrated in public speech but in reality stunted in their development, grubby in their appearance, over- crowded and unmanaged. Yet it is the traditional market and the Pura Melanting system which contain the very spirit of Bali and are the very backbone of the Tri Hita Kirana philosophy. These are the actors Balinese life - the traders, buyers, suppliers competitors, market stalls operators and the merchandisers.

Some "managers" champion speeches about Tri Hita Kirana while their actual behavior sacrifices the Hindu guidelines laid down in the Bhisama Parisadaby bowing to the wishes of powerful investors wishing to build in sacred "no-build zones" surrounding religious sites. Other "managers" eagerly invite investors to build a golf course surrounding Bali's Mother Temple of Pura Besakih. While, yet other "managers" feel no compunction or embarrassment issuing permits for alcohol factories, geothermal projects, villas in Bedugul and the leveling of jungles along the Ayang River. Unfortunately, these "managers" feel no inclination to honor the rules and guidelines on cultural tourism and provincial zoning laws already in place. Truly, if these "managers" can only ignore rules and regulations, they are not fit to be re-elected or allowed to rise in their bureaucratic careers.

The symptoms of verbalism and destination mismanagement have resulted in "cultureless" tourism products and unregulated development. South Bali builds hotels; East Bali, North Bali and Central Bali must follow suit. One regency develops an elephant safari park, other regencies do the same, not wishing to be left out. While other destinations have their 'managers' who seek a culture based on motor cross racing, gambling, alcohol, and sex tourism. There are other examples that could be cited that are even more incomprehensible and shocking.

Alas, if our vision is only expressed on paper, we are destined to act without vision and to eventually become lost in the dark.

To avoid darkness and destruction, and prevent Bali from becoming a destination of yesterday we must involve representatives from all walks of life in Bali to create a coordinated destination management program. According to the theory, management can only succeed in the presence of a clear goals; resources; formal cooperation guided by sufficient rule and regulation; work and the distribution of tasks; an organizational structure; management and workers; authority and responsibilities for every member of the organization; communication; coordination; integration; and delegation.

This is the real homework ahead for Bali's leaders over the coming five years

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