History of Tourism
Ever since two members of van de Houtman's crew jumped ship in 1597, Bali's utterly unique, highly developed culture has been endlessly fascinating to Westerners, the paradigm of tropical beauty and exotic adventure.
The Dutch steamship line KPM began calling at the northern Bali port of Buleleng in the late 19th century, though its cargoes consisted mostly of pigs, copra, and coffee rather than tourists.
Following quickly upon the 'puputan' of 1906, Bali's first tourist was Dutch parliamentarian H. Van Kol, who reached Bali at his own expense and toured the island with a senior Dutch official. Upon his return to Holland, he wrote of his travels on Bali in a book called Out of Our Colonies.
By 1914 KPM was producing brochures rhapsodizing about Bali as an enchanted Garden of Eden. Next came a classic book of photos of wild dances, corrupt kings, and bare bodies, published in Germany in 1921 by Gregor Krause.
As early as the 1920s, the island drew a steady stream of affluent, intrepid, genteel world vagabonds. These visitors perplexed the Dutch, who looked upon their tour of duty on quiet Bali as a necessity. In the 1930s the documentaries Isle of the Demons and Goona-Goona depicted Bali as a paradise on earth.
The celebrated anthropologist Margaret Mead arrived to extol the island, getting things very wrong in her studies of the Balinese children. The aristocratic Balinist and painter Walter Spies wrote and photographed the proud bronzed Balinese trance dancers and noble dusky peasantry. It later came to light that Spies was attracted to the island for its young boys.
Bali's first hotel, KPM's Bali Hotel in Denpasar, catered to the rich and famous, including Charlie Chaplin. In the introduction to his 1930 book The Last Paradise, the American dilettante Hickman Powell wrote, 'This nation of artists is faced with the Western invasion, and I cannot stand idly by and watch their destruction'.
In the early 1930s other hotels began to open, and the first souvenir shop was established on Sanur Beach in 1935. Miguel Covarrubias, author of the 1937 Classic Island of Bali, lamented the arrival of the tourist hordes. The 'absence of beggars,' he wrote, 'is now threatened by tourists who lure boys and girls with dimes to take their pictures. Lately, in places frequented by tourists, people are beginning to ask for money as a return for a service'.
After the war, Bali was celebrated in songs and movies, which generated a small increase in visitors. Facilities were still few, the infrastructure nonexistent. Still, by the late 1940s, Cassandros Like, the curator of the American Museum of Natural History lamented that tourism had just about ruined Bali. At least, he wrote, 'the Second World War put a halt to the tourist trade to Bali so that the corruption and dissolution of the culture could be given a respite'.
In 1953, Bob Hope's vapid movie The Road to Bali depicted an island of maidens in grass skirts, unknown here. The mythical 'Bali Hai' in James Michener's book Tales of the South Pacific was actually located thousands of miles from the island. Nevertheless, these fictions instilled in the popular mind the idea of Bali as synonymous with tropical beauty and exotic adventure.
The political upheaval of the Sukarno regime years was not conducive to Western tourism, but it was during the turbulent '60s that the first international-class luxury hotel was erected on the island. With Japanese war reparations money the ugly, garish multistoried Bali Beach Hotel of Sanur was built in 1963. In that same year an international conference of travel agents convened on Bali.
The anticommunist slaughter of 1966-67 caused only a temporary blip in the inexorable growth of tourism. In 1966 Bali's Ngurah Rai airport was enlarged for wide-bodied jets. Since the Bali Beach Hotel couldn't accommodate everybody, traditional style 'bungalow' or 'cottage' accommodations with thatched roofs and open pavilions rose along the southern beaches.
Restaurants, art shops, and travel agencies appeared. In the mid-1970s Australian surfers and hippies discovered Kuta/Legian. Aussie surfing magazines glorified the beautiful beaches, dangerous waves, and laid-back, low-cost lifestyle.
In Kuta, enterprising villagers opened pension-style 'home-stays', cheap restaurants, shops, money-changing facilities, telecommunication offices, and vehicle rental outlets. Kuta's family-owned enterprises sank revenues back into the local economy, directly benefiting the villagers until their average per capita income was four times the Balinese average.
As early as 1972 it was widely recognized that developments in Kuta and Sanur were badly planned. The government established the Bali Tourism Development Corporation (BTDC) to more closely monitor and supervise future projects. Bali was earmarked for intense development, with an enclave-type complex planned for Nusa Dua, formerly a fishing village and coconut plantation on the East Side of the Bukit Peninsula.
The backlash began in the early 1980s in the quiet traditional village of Ubud in the Bali uplands. Locals began to curse the tourists for disrupting ceremonies and dressing inappropriately. The people fought to preserve Ubud's natural beauty and ensure that the increasing numbers of visitors did not degrade their customs and culture. This effort eventually fizzled, as Ubud continued to grow pell-mell, the town drowning beneath waves of tourists and eventually exploding into a small city.
A swinging singles scene of Australians and Europeans formed in the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak region in the late 1980s. These were the boom years. Indonesia kick-started mass tourism in the 1990s with a big 'Visit Indonesia Year' campaign. Families bought stereos, television sets, and cars with the money they made from tourists, even sold off rice fields to buy motorbikes to rent, hoping to live off the bounty of the tourist industry indefinitely.
A new class of Balinese nouveau riche created jealousy and envy in the community. Business was so good; the Balinese were totally unprepared for the abrupt drop in tourism sparked by the 1993 war in the Persian Gulf. Hotels and restaurants stood empty and the few visitors were hounded mercilessly by the street peddlers who now outnumbered tourists 20 to 1. Suddenly everyone realized just how dependent they were on the tourist dollar.
The provincial government cleaned up the really disagreeable peddlers and vendors, confiscating their goods if they ventured into a designated hassle-free zone on Kuta Beach. A ban was placed on the construction of all international-class hotels within a designated 'green belt', and a five hundred million rupiahs hotel in Tampaksiring was even razed by bulldozers.
The airport was upgraded and handled an estimated 2.5 million air travelers in 1995. Twelve international airlines currently fly into Bali, with 77 international flights each week. There are now at least 35 star-rated hotels on Bali, nine in the Nusa Dua area alone. It is estimated the Ngurah Rai Airport will process 10 million visitors annually by the year 2000.
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