Bali is one of 17,000 islands that makes up Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world. Its verdant rice terraces and Hindu temples define its landscape.
Bali is also home to more than 20,000 temples, according to a 2014 paper called “The Readiness of Bali as Spiritual Destination” released by a team of French and Indonesian universities.
Between its myriad temples and its many wellness clinics and yoga retreats, the island has become a magnet for tourists who like a little spirituality with their vacation.
And also, land of holy temples, age-old traditions, beaches and jungles, make it catnip for the Instagrammers and tourists who flock to the island every year.
Before pandemic, in 2019, Indonesia welcomed 16.1 million foreign tourists, according to data from the country’s central bureau of statistics.
Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport saw 6.23 million foreign arrivals that year, the most of any airport in the country. While some would argue that tourism has “ruined” Bali, it has become an indispensable part of the island’s economy: An estimated 80% of Bali’s economy is tied to travel.
The pandemic, of course, ground tourism to a halt globally, and Indonesia was no exception.
In April 2020, foreign arrivals in Bali dropped by more than 93%. In the same month, the government announced the pandemic was forecast to wipe out USD 10 billion from its tourism revenue by the end of the year.
By November, Indonesia announced it was in its first recession in 22 years.
Now, the government is trying to kick start tourism with a series of proposed measures that include travel bubbles between several of its islands and nearby Singapore, and a five-year visa targeting business travelers and digital nomads.
It’s also planning to spend USD 275 million on 108 infrastructure projects this year to mint a series of “new Balis,” a sweeping initiative that aims to bring tourists to new parts of the vast country.
But all that development comes at a cost.
One of those experts, Jaeyeon Choe O’Regan, who has a Ph.D. in tourism management and focuses on sustainable community development and poverty alleviation in Southeast Asia, told that the project raises a series of red flags.
“I’m concerned about replicating the idea of Bali in these provinces because they have characteristics, resources, heritages, and people that are totally different from Bali,” Choe O’Regan said.