Bali’s Governor: Tourists Stay Away, You’re Our Biggest Mistake

Bali planned to re-open to American tourism this month Instead they’re reducing quarantine requirements to 5 days I’m feeling good about my decision to drop Bali as a destination next month. Bali has been pushing hard against the string of the Indonesian government since last year.

Now Bali’s governor claims tourism isn’t actually good for Bali after all, despite representing over 50% of GDP (some estimates as high as 60%).

“All this time tourism has not really directly benefited the people of Bali, it has only been enjoyed by investors from outside,” Koster said yesterday.

…“I have continued to evaluate. But the biggest mistake in Bali is our dependence on tourism,” Koster added.

The governor is “working on a new economic concept” to prioritize “local resources..cover[ing] sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, and cultural crafts, with tourism development being placed last.”

Early in the year, after Australia had blown its vaccination program and had tremendous catch up to do, Australian politicians were talking smack about the effectiveness of vaccines. Despite consistent promises of re-opening tourism, Bali officials have been trumped by the central Indonesian government. Facing this failure they’re suddenly saying tourism isn’t helpful.

  • If tourism is important and the government has crushed it then it’s a major failure of… those same politicians.

  • On the other hand if they didn’t want tourism anyway, they’ve had their priorities right and are serving the people well.

There’s no question that the economy of Bali has suffered especially heavily because it shut down to tourism, given how much tourism matters there. But saying ‘we don’t want tourism and want something else instead‘ is a mistake. It’s also not simply possible for politicians to replace half the economy with something else that they’re less well-suited to and expect success.

Claiming that tourism benefits outside investors is a bit misleading, since swapping out the which big investors benefit doesn’t accrue to the livelihoods of people generally – just which cronyist interests make money, and which politicians extract rents.

Meanwhile tourism does benefit Bali,

  • Construction. The new Andaz Bali didn’t just suddenly spring up ex nihilo, for instance.

  • Hospitality jobs. Local workers earn a living supporting tourism. So, too, local guides, boat workers, dive shop staff and the like. So, too, airline and airport workers. “Replacing tourism” means upending their livelihoods and displacing them.

  • Entrepreneurs. Restaurant owners, craft shop owners, and companies that make those crafts in the first place benefit from tourism demand.

Tourism isn’t just something that matters in lesser-developed countries. It matters tremendously to France and to the United States. Bali may want ‘more than tourism’ and more job opportunities will drive up wages as a result of competition from other opportunities. And there are some steps that policy can take, such as a friendly tax and regulatory climate, to foster this. But that’s a model of tourism-plus, not tourism-substitution.

Indeed, replacing tourism means less demand for workers, so that they have no choice but to work cheap for different business owners in different industries. Maybe, in addition to excusing pandemic failures, that’s also the goal.

(HT: Drew J.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What the hell is this politician talking about? Tourism has been a good thing for the island for decades. What’s not great is the island’s dependence on it. The country and its leaders are complacent in creating low-skilled labor force because that’s all they know, they talk about tourist numbers all the time.

  2. I have rescheduled now for Bali 3 times. I am scheduled to go in May 2022 and have replacement tickets AGAIN. Hopefully things do open up by May 2022 or we have serious issues globally if we can’t get things normalized by then. We are awash in vaccines.

  3. My wife and I were supposed to be in Bali later this month but cancelled due to continuing uncertainty. I’ve been there 6 times in the last 6 years and can say without reservation that the Balinese people as a whole absolutely benefit from tourism. Even pretending differently is ludicrous. I’m not sure who the government is trying to convince but I suspect very few people are buying what the governor is selling right now.

  4. Having seen Bali grow exponentially over the past 15 years, the Governor does have a point. There’s always some water shortage. There’s no place to put the trash. Traffic (before covid) was incredible in the wrong way.

    Long term residents and visitors wish that a more sustainable tourism model could be developed. Now would be the time to start working on it.

    Unfortunately, everyone wants to go to Bali still to take their Instagram photos, with China and India’s newly emerging middle class just a few hours away. Unlike Thailand which seems to just pop up a new island somewhere when the other ones get full, the Balinese culture is different than the surrounding islands. Trying to export that culture for new islands would be a big step towards relieving the pressure of tourism in Bali and promote it elsewhere in Indonesia.

  5. I can’t agree more with this decision. Nature in Bali is being impacted by the mostly horrible tourism the island is getting. Being there dozens of times I can say the majority of the tourists just go and trash the place. All they care is spending as little as possible, bargaining to save two cents (specially European tourism), king advantage of the locals, etc. The majority of the tourist just wat to go to the beautiful landmarks, take the instagram picture and leave. I have seen many who don’t even actually bring money but find a job there, work for a few hours and then spend their money. How does this help the country?

    The story of Bali is exactly the same as Cancun. This kind of tourists create jobs. Yes, extremely poorly paid jobs. They are trashing the place, they can drink and party for a 10% of the money they would pay at home. They don’t care about the environment.

    Well done Bali, hope Mexico does the same with Cancun. This is wonderful news for the planet.

  6. Indonesia has some of the most stupid politicians on earth. From the idiot in Komodo that wanted to raise park prices to $1000 per person to the Oresident who denied covid numbers to this.

    I have no problem with them raising prices or requiring more to get a better class of tourist than the ones who come to get drunk on the drink trolley but to say they don’t need tourists is plainly stupid.

    Exactly what does Bali produce that has a world market?

    When I’m in Bali, I’m either flying out to another Indonesian location or oy spending a few days heading to scuba/snorkel spots. Denpasar is overrun with drunks, backpackers and cheap tourists. I wouldn’t want them either

  7. Bali (Indonesia) and nearly every non European derived country offers absolutely nothing of value to the world and produces nothing but problems and low quality living. Countries like Vietnam thrive on western countries using their very cheap labor to make crap we don’t need in the first place. Without that, they’d have nothing but coffee beans.*

    All these countries should be extremely grateful for tourist dollars from westerners. Tourism literally feeds their kids. These people are lucky to have been born in lands with beautiful landscapes, climate, scenery, and beaches that they had absolutely nothing to do with; they were simply put there after Babel when the continents split. It’s the same with Middle Eastern countries and oil. No native Arab could conceive of the drilling technology to harness the oil or to even know its there. Western leaders sold us out to them instead of developing our own sources, enriching ourselves, and not emboldening sand dwellers.

    * China is an example of a country that steals western technology from skyscraper design to their new commercial jetliner built in an old McDonnell Douglas factory. They can keep their rice. Unfortunately, western politicians have sold us out to China by emboldening them with our technology and money.

  8. Finally someone that calls it as it is.

    Balinese are far from being wealthy people, yet suffer from all the bad thing of tourism, from pollution to hellish traffic to low water reserves to desecration of sites and so on.

    They would definitely more than benefit from a cap on tourists like the successful scheme that has kept the Galapagos islands from overtourism — the drunkard will have not problem in exploiting some other island elsewhere.

  9. @Luis, Bali had a rich culture long before tourism. Cancún itself didn’t exist before it was founded in 1970 precisely for the purpose of attracting tourism. Cancún island (now the Hotel Zone) was all but uninhabited and literally dozens of people lived in nearby Puerto Juárez. I definitely see Cancún talking about ways to shift away from the college crowd chaos – the college revelers are anything but big spenders and give the place image problems – but tourism, in one form or another, is its raison d’etre. In a former job I spent a month a year in Cancún and it was amazing to see how much change happened each year.

    As for Bali, a more sustainable tourism could be had simply by cutting down landing slots at the airport.

  10. As a resident of Bali I see daily how a lack of tourists hurts the island. The tourist tap can not simply be turned off. If changes are to be made a proper, well thought thru plan should be conceived and executed to increase the quality of tourists and provide non-tourism jobs for Indonesians who find themselves unemployed because of a structural shift in the economy. But i doubt this will happen because the Balinese (and Indonesians) don’t know how to see past the next deposit into their bank account.

    As for the cheap tourists being responsible for pollution, that may be so. But the Balinese are also pretty good at generating their own pollution and leaving garbage everywhere.

  11. All these places that complained about tourists pre covid (Bali, Thailand, Barcelona, Venice) are now seeing the effects of what happens when all those tourists dollars dry up. Having been to Bali every year since 2015-2020, there is no other industry on that island besides tourism and rice paddies. Foreigners complain of overdevelopment but locals I am sure would rather work in a cafe serving acai bowls to annoying Instagramer, than plowing rice paddies because that is their only other option.

  12. What an idiot! Remember the old saying “ don’t bite the hand that feeds you” I am close to cancelling my one week stay there in January. Tired of these leaders BS.! He doesn’t give a rats ass because he has a guaranteed Govt salary.

  13. Jeez— between “Jackson Waterson” and some of the others here, you’d think the world is a VERY ugly place. Actually, Bali’s pretty nice; sorry so many others made it there before me, but that’s life in beautiful places.

    Gary, it seems like your commenters lately tend toward complainers and bigots.

  14. While it would be crazy to do away with tourism I can see why they want to rid themselves of the begpackers and others that add little benefit to the economy. I wouldn’t want to be Dollar Store of tourism either. Perhaps some zoning/restriction of hostels, camping, etc. would help.

    I imagine a lot of tourists there spend little on guides, dive shops, etc.

    I would say 60% or the economy being tourism, or any one thing, is too much. That also leaves the economy very vulnerable to any civil strife or conflicts.

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