'Spiritual' Bali may be at risk as tourism booms

Under pressure ... I Made Pastika yesterday.
Under pressure ... I Made Pastika yesterday.

RAMPANT tourist development, crime, traffic, rubbish and water problems have not, and will not, kill Bali's identity as a spiritual place, according to the island's governor, I Made Pastika.

He was speaking as many visitors including the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the former prime minister John Howard, prepare to commemorate tomorrow's 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings.

Mr Pastika acknowledged that the island's "development is very rapid and sometimes uncontrolled". He said tourism was increasing wealth, but also widening the gap between rich and poor in Bali, which could lead to social tension.

He apologised to a number of poor Balinese victims of the 2002 bombings who had been forgotten by the administration and left to fend for themselves, saying he felt personally guilty about their plight.

He also acknowledged that the rate of change brought other problems too.

"So many people come to earn their living, to get their wealth, to suck the money from Bali … Our people are getting more and more prosperous, but on the other side there are lots of problems - traffic jams, garbage, water problems, [shortage of] accommodation, [and] pollution.

"And also bad people come … They bring drugs, they teach crime here," he said, describing crime as the "shadow of society".

Bali has bounced back from the tourist depression caused by the Bali bombings, and now hosts more Australians than it did before the attacks.

In 2011, about 2.75 million foreign tourists came to Bali, 10 per cent more than the previous year, and more than five million tourists came from within Indonesia. But in July, Mr Pastika predicted that, by 2015, both figures would almost double, so that the island would host 15 million tourists a year.

To prepare for this rise, the skyline is dotted with cranes building new luxury hotels, resorts and malls. Kuta beach has little spare frontage, and development on the beachfront has spread rapidly away from its epicentre, to the far north and south.

Traffic now banks up for an hour or more at peak times along the narrow roads, and walking is dangerous due to un-maintained footpaths and motorcycles that mount the curb to seek a quicker route.

On the outskirts of towns and villages, rubbish is everywhere.

But, Mr Pastika denied that this rapid growth in tourism was in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

"We want Bali [to be] still Bali, with the unique culture, with the friendly people and beautiful landscapes, and living culture," he said.

Things that would ensure these aspects of the predominantly Hindu island are maintained include its unique ways of village management and worship.

This story 'Spiritual' Bali may be at risk as tourism booms first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.