For a start, don’t be nuding up.
Last week, a video circulated on social media that enraged the local and expat community in Bali. In front of shocked onlookers, a young, naked female tourist ascended the stairs of a temple during a Balinese cultural dance and forcibly pushed through a carved door. After being confronted by a Balinese man in ceremonial dress, she paraded back down the stairs, arms held out to her sides in victory with a smug expression on her face, before kneeling at a statue in ‘prayer’.
Regardless of whether it was desperate attempt at notoriety or mental illness, it was one of the most sickening displays of cultural disrespect I have ever seen. It is a stain on visitors in Bali and I felt deeply embarrassed for the locals that were there to witness her total disregard for their culture and the loss of dignity they must have endured in that moment. It’s this growing sense of entitlement, the latest in a string of incidents in Bali, that is driving a broader discussion around the future of tourism on the island.
After a spate of events involving tourists from Australia, Russia, the UK, US and Europe, it’s clear that Bali wants to clean up its image. Or should I say, that of its guests. From making a mockery of sacred sites to drunken behaviour and disregard for road safety, authorities in Bali have had enough and are putting their foot down. Last week, Bali’s Governor Wayan Koster announced a comprehensive list of guidelines for tourists to follow in Bali, which are to be printed on a card for easy reference and handed out to passengers arriving at Denpasar international airport.
The 12 ‘dos’ and eight ‘don’ts’ have been designed to educate travellers as well as help them avoid prosecution and penalties while in Bali. Many of the guidelines are not actually new and reiterate laws that are already a part of Indonesia’s constitution, such as complying with traffic laws, holding a valid license or adhering to lawful behaviour in sacred sites and towards authorities and the government.
Alongside these basic measures, Governor Koster has issued a landmark ban on climbing all 22 mountains and volcanos in Bali with immediate effect. Mountains are considered the most sacred places in Balinese culture and after a series of deaths and incidents involving influencers stripping naked on social media, tourists will no longer be allowed to climb them. This new law also applies to locals and tour guides ascending Mt Batur and Mt Agung, which have been part of the island’s tourism offering for decades. Part of a wider plan to embrace sustainability, it’s a move in the right direction, but will likely leave many locals unemployed.
The new tourism policy also states that travellers should refrain from using single-use plastics and littering, can only hire scooters or motorbikes from a licensed operator or stay in accommodation with the required permits. It’s not clear how these will be implemented and if the past is any indication, authorities may have bitten off more than they can chew. However, what Bali needs to do now is put their money where their mouth is. The only way to tackle disorderly, disrespectful conduct is to take a zero-tolerance approach and show tourists that bad behaviour has real repercussions, such as deportation. In the last few days, Governor Koster has also announced an urgent review on the visa on arrival.
There’s a worrying attitude that has been growing among tourists to Bali, a sense of entitlement and recklessness that is impacting the local community and giving those of us who love and respect the island a bad name. It’s hard to put a finger on why tourists behave this way when they arrive to the Island of the Gods. What is it about Bali that makes people think they can do what they like? India and Japan both have numerous spiritual and cultural sites, but you don’t hear about foreigners humiliating their culture or desecrating temples.
Bali has attracted a younger, more free-thinking demographic of traveller in recent years, as well as influencers whose lives play out on social media. They’ll go to any length for more likes. Perhaps Bali needs to put its foot down on this type of activity, stop promoting the island and its venues as props for social media and start focusing on authentic experiences that appeal to the thoughtful, more considered tourist. Kindness is in the bones of the Balinese. But It’s time for some tough love.
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