“Bali is a living postcard, an Indonesian paradise that feels like a fantasy”– TripAdvisor.
Awarded the title of Top Holiday Destination in the World in 2017, Bali’s popularity has skyrocketed off the charts and landed on every top travel list on the planet. I won’t be exaggerating if I said that that once travel is being discussed, someone has either just travelled to Bali, is planning to, or has placed it at the top of their travel list.
So how has Bali, which is just one of Indonesian’s 17,504 islands that make up the archipelago become the most famous of all? It’s not the most beautiful of of all the islands, nor is it the most significant historically or even politically. So what makes it the most famous?
“What’s Not To Adore About Bali? Apparently Plenty”
Bali’s tipping point occurred in 2010; after being featured in the movie starring Julia Roberts’ Eat, Pray, Love where its culture, natural beauty and people were showcased; and just like the main character in the movie the world fell in love. Bali was transformed and this once secluded, simple island paradise and its people was never the same.
Coming from a beautiful island myself, and having visited Bali recently, I left the island with a camera loaded with beautiful Instagrammable photos. Other than that, I felt there was nothing much to write home about – as they say.
A post-mortem of some sort was needed. Was it me? Did I miss something or is Bali, as a travel destination, over hyped and overpriced and overrated.
Here’s what I found. Riding on the wave of popularity from the movie, Bali wasted no time and morphed itself to create the perfect island get away, catering to a wide range of their visitors demands. For instance, in the southeast of the island, beach lovers and water sport enthusiasts can find a dreamy location. For seekers of spirituality and yoga practitioners, the island promises a bit of heaven on earth. Bali has also created a haven for the romantic and luxury travellers, becoming one of the main honeymoon destinations for Europeans, Asians and Australians. In the interior of the island, nature lovers have eked out their own world amongst the island’s pristine tea terraces.
But Bali’s approach as a catch all destination for tourist, as well as, the share number of visitors to the island annually raises a few questions. With a target set at 20 million visitors to the island in 2019, maintaining a quality, authentic tourist experience has become a challenge. The onslaught of tourits stretches the island’s resources, its ability to safe guard its environment and its infrastructure toward another tipping point.
Tourism was once a good thing sent to the 4 million citizens of Bali. However, the changes that it has brought to the island, has left more and more Balinese questioning whether it has all been worth it. “I blame us, the Balinese, for letting this happen, for selling our lands, for getting the easy way out of poverty, for thinking that tourism is the only job that we can do it,” said Eve Tedja, a Balinese journalist. “We sold our rice fields and now buy our rice from another island.”
Too much of a good thing has left Bali sinking under its own success. From inescapable gridlock on the roads, heaps of litter both on and off shore, constant construction and even a water crisis; all of it has been inevitably impacting the overall tourist experience.
During my visit to Bali these are the things that impacted me the most:
On the other hand, the silver cloud in Bali was the Balinese people themselves; warm, welcoming and hospitable, they have an unwavering devotion to their Gods and communities that is fascinating to observe but they too have seen and felt first-hand how their island has buckled under the weight of oversubscription.
However, slowly the mentality is shifting and instead of gorging the island with tourists at any cost a more sustainable approach is being developed-particularly towards Balinese culture and the environment. Focus is being placed on rebranding the confusing identity of the island. While programmes like Basa Bali is geared to preservation of the Balinese culture, discussions are also underway to introduce a more collaborative relationship between domestic and international stakeholders aimed towards community enhancements. The Balinese government is also considering taxes geared toward tourists in the form of a waste management and a cultural tax, which in my opinion needs a bit of rethinking.
As a traveller what I learnt is that even paradise has a limit. The situation Bali has found itself in could happen to any small island. Today social media is so powerful that small islands like Bali are initially powerless to stem the tide of over tourism.
Bali’s new approach to success will be that of a balancing act. Where they can maintain their authentic culture and soul, while remaining a top destination that tourists and future generations will want to visit and experience.
All being said, is Bali a beautiful destination? Yes! Is its people and culture alluring and interesting? Absolutely! Does it have a lot to offer and experience? For sure! Did I make beautiful memories on the island? Would I recommend it highly? No! Would your experience be the same as mine, perhaps yes, perhaps no. Let me know when you visit.