Tourism is a wonderful development tool for both visitors and locals alike. However, in recognition of the fact that tourism needs a radical facelift to counteract the environmental damage it has caused, UNWTO declared last year to be the ‘Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’. What does this mean, really?
I call Bali, Indonesia home. It’s a beautiful, bountiful island that attracts more and more tourists every year. Bali has something for everyone and has captured the imaginations of entire generations of tourists, starting from artists and poets to university students looking to broaden their cultural horizons. While word of the charms of Bali has spread far and wide, bringing prosperity and income to more locals, it has inevitably brought with it environmental degradation.
If you are considering visiting Bali, the first step would be to educate yourself about the realities of environmental degradation in Bali and embrace behaviours that would limit your impact. Very few visitors are aware that tourism is consuming 65% of the freshwater resources, leading to a rapidly declining water table. Lack of recharge wells means that despite heavy rainfall, salt water is filling up the empty water table, especially in South Bali. This is putting added pressure on the limited freshwater resources available. Added to the lack of water, existing rivers have alarmingly poor water quality. One of the culprits is plastic choking up the island’s rivers and irrigation system. It is routine to find single use plastics such as food packaging, straws, water bottles, plastic cups and cutlery washed up against a river bank that also serves as a community washing and bathing area. Another hazardous practice leading to water contamination is lack of treatment of waste water by hotels and restaurants, especially at the coast. This is wreaking havoc on the already delicate underwater ecosystem, not mention spreading disease and illness during the wet season.
The importance of maintaining the delicate balance between tourism and environmental preservation cannot be stressed enough. Tourism is not going to disappear overnight, and nor should it. The resulting economic boom in Bali has led to vast improvements in the lives of locals – better access to medical facilities, better infrastructure and a better quality of life. At the same time, unchecked development, lack of regulation and education are threatening to bring down this house of cards. The environmental issues faced by Bali are numerous and complicated, as are the solutions. As someone with a stake in the tourism industry here in Bali, I have spent a great amount of time wrestling with the question – how am I helping?
As a company and as individuals, we at Catterfly believe in sustainable travel in the truest sense. We work with locally owned businesses, go to great lengths to seek out local experts and logistics partners and meticulously comb through guided activities to ensure that safety, environmental and community regulations are met. Sustainable travel does not mean compromising on the quality of a traveller’s experience, even if we have had to sometimes dissuade them from plainly unethical activities like those involving animal cruelty. Unique accommodation options from farmhouses to locally owned villas and curated local experiences make sustainable travel fun and accessible with all budgets. Through direct local participation, we seek to empower communities, encourage them to adopt best practices in the industry and seek change from local governments. However, there’s a lot more direct action we can take.
Visitors to the island, whether short term or long term, have an important role to play. Taking shorter showers, reusing towels, refusing straws and plastic bags and refilling a water bottle are all small, simple changes with huge impacts. More importantly, these acts of ‘rebellion’ send a message to everyone in the travel industry – hotels, restaurants, tour operators and eventually the government. As tourists, you form a vital part of the economic ecosystem. I encourage you to use your voice. This is the single most impactful thing you can do. Ask hotels about their waste management systems, inquire about their sustainability policy or social impact projects, tell your local restaurant that you do not want to use plastic utensils or ask your tour operator about electric vehicles to transport you.
Why should I care, you ask? After all, you are on holiday. To this I say, come visit Bali and you will know why. You will be spell bound from the moment you step on these shores. This is the new generation of travelers, not just tourists but people with a genuine desire to explore and dig deep into a destination. You can come explore the well trodden, bustling streets of Kuta and Seminyak or find yourself lost in the jungles up in the rain-forests of west Bali. Regardless of your travel style, you will find the Bali of your dreams. And it is in danger of disappearing forever. So I implore you to come, be swept off your feet by Bali and play your part in keeping this island magical for a little while longer.