I love Bali: Bali’s attraction: Too much too soon?

The good news is that the island’s revenue from the rise in global tourism should continue to see positive growth over the coming years. The predicted growth by the World Travel & Tourism Council suggests global tourism revenues will grow by at least US$500 million per year in the near future, and if Bali follows recent trends, the island will see a proportion of that money spent at its hotels, spas, shops and restaurants.

In the south of the island there is a great emphasis being placed on key macro infrastructure projects, such as the airport, the underpass and over-water relief road. While in most other parts of the island significant development is severely lagging. The second airport and West Coast relief road are obvious examples. Cynics might suggest the southern infrastructure development is only happening now because of the upcoming major international conferences. While that may be true, it does not change the fact that they are being built, and may improve the dreadful congestion for residents and visitors alike.

Beyond these projects, at least on the face, there seems to be very little long term spatial planning or control. In fact with the explosion of hotel, villa, house and shop building, something that has attracted so much negative comment, a visitor to the island would be totally excused if he believed that there were no planning regulations at all. What is perhaps most staggering is the incessant building of hotels and villas, despite the report of low occupancy rates and rising prices. Throughout the island, but particularly in the south, star-rated and budget hotels seemingly appear almost overnight, despite the governor’s somewhat toothless moratorium on hotel and villa development.

Research published by Knight Frank last year indicated that Bali will have at least 10,466 new hotel rooms between 2012 and 2014. They conclude as of September 2012, that 37 percent were already operational, which leaves a staggering 63 percent more to come in the next 18 months. A cursory glance at the skyline will confirm building on a monumental scale. The figures released by Knight Frank, of course, do not include the incredible number of unregulated rooms that are increasingly on offer. For the consumer, it is a reasonable assumption to expect that the increase in choice should drive prices down, and in the budget sector this seems to be the case.

Many new hotels especially are offering basic rooms with basic amenities at very low prices. But with starred hotels the opposite seems true and annual increases of 8 to 10 percent are reported as the norm. The reality was highlighted in late 2012 by Anak Agung Gede Rai, former director of Bali Tourism Development Cooperation (BTDC), who said recently: “With the flood of tourists coming to Bali, it would be logical for our hotel occupancy rates to increase. But, in reality, we still have stagnant occupancy rates.”

Perry Markus, secretary of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), said that some hotels even had below 50 percent occupancy most of the year, whilst during the June to August summer and school holidays most were booked at between 80 and 100 percent. “Bali has uncontrolled growth in hotel rooms making competition very edgy,” he said. The dangers of the massive rise in hotel rooms to the image of Bali are significant; something which many officials appear obsessed with.

If, as Perry and Rai suggest, current occupancy in many places remains unsustainably low then it is obvious that with ever more hotels and rooms pressing for guests there will be closures and corners cut in service. Pricing aside, the constant development is clearly destroying much of what visitors come to see: rice fields, wide beaches, mountain forests, mangroves, are all disappearing in the rush to cash in. In summary, the south of island is seeing commendable macro infrastructure projects, without, it must be said, much in the way of supporting development or wider development in the north.

The post-bombing increase in visitors has fueled the rapid development of hotels, which continues largely unchecked despite a building moratorium in the south. In the meantime, the island’s attractiveness is rapidly declining, especially to more affluent and adventurous travelers, who it seems, are growing tired of seeing the once idyllic island disappearing under its own weight of refuse and concrete. So at this pivotal point for the island, when the path taken will determine its medium- and long-term viability as a tourist destination and with it the economic and cultural future of its residents, it is time for clear and strong leadership and sensible policies with long-term goals. Never has the island needed it more.

source : bali daily

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