Lately, however, the so-called “Island of the Gods” has acquired a reputation for something else: badly behaving tourists. Negative headlines in the global press have rattled the beach-lined isle in recent months, highlighting an uptick in foreigners completely disregarding Balinese rules and customs.
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In March, a Russian citizen was deported for a photo (widely circulated on social media) showing him pantless at a sacred Hindu site, the latest in a string of such events. Another tourist was captured that same month screaming and lunging at religious security officers directing him away from a street closed due to a Hindu purification ritual. A group of visitors even filed an official complaint about roosters crowing at dawn – and disrupting their sleep at a nearby homestay – which sparked anger among local residents, who raise chickens for food.
A tourist quota on Bali?
To curb such behavior and encourage better-quality tourism, the government announced plans in early May to impose new quotas for the island, which would cap arrivals (and might also include a component requiring sufficient proof of funds prior to entry). Officials are currently crunching the numbers to define their targets, with a goal of keeping the number of international visitors in line with the island’s capacity.
The prospect of quotas has sent shockwaves across the local tourism industry – yet the fears may be overblown. According to the island’s governor, Wayan Koster, Bali would likely still permit millions of international visitors to enter each year.
“A comprehensive evaluation is necessary to regulate the entry of foreign tourists,” he announced earlier this month at a seminar on the future of development in Bali. “For instance, there might be a consideration of a limit of seven million individuals based on certain criteria.”
The island of 4.3 million people saw 6.3 million visitors in 2019, the year before the pandemic – up from just 2.2 million a decade prior. The meteoric rise led to increased congestion, worrisome traffic violations and an unsustainable accumulation of garbage, all putting stress on the local population.
By creating a quota system, Bali hopes to pivot to a quality-over-quantity approach to tourism, encouraging a smaller number of foreign visitors to stay for longer periods of time, and making the industry more sustainable all around. “If there is a quota, then people will have to queue,” Koster said, noting that it would not target specific countries but rather total arrivals. “Those who want to come next year, can sign up from now. That’s the system we want to apply.”
Tourists behaving badly
The move is seen as a direct response to the surge in misbehaving tourists. In addition to the culturally insensitive actions that have gone viral on social media, other visitors have been caught for traffic violations or unlawfully seeking employment under a tourist visa. All told, nearly 100 foreigners were deported from the island in the first four months of this year.
The Bali Tourism Board recently launched an ad campaign pleading for more respectful behavior. Among its requests: stop posting “vulgar pictures” to social media, wear a helmet when using motorbikes and practice more cultural sensitivity – including confining beachwear to the beach. The ad notes offenders could face large fines and even deportation. Billboards with similar messaging are reportedly forthcoming, as is a “guidebook for good tourists,” which would serve as an educational resource for visitors.
Koster said the proposed quotas may be the best way to help the island “attract quality tourists who not only appreciate Balinese culture but also uphold local values and traditions.”
Whether it will ever become law, however, remains to be seen.
Tourist taxes and driving bans
The media-savvy governor has made headlines several times in recent months for proposals ranging from banning all foreigners from driving motorbikes to withdrawing the visa-on-arrival scheme for Russians and Ukrainians, both groups having flocked to Bali in record numbers amid the ongoing war. None of these proposals have so far come to fruition.
Indonesia also floated the idea this April of enacting a tourism tax of between $30 and $100 per foreign visitor – though a similar proposal in 2019 failed to gain public support. For now, there are a lot of big ideas, but few concrete changes. The headlines nevertheless highlight the nation’s growing concern with mass tourism, and the abiding need for visitors to practice more respect when traveling abroad.