The threat of a Mt Agung volcano eruption in Bali has made the headlines worldwide, creating a sense of fear leading to trip cancellations.
Better say it first, it is relatively safe to visit Bali. If an eruption would happen, only a small part of the island would be impacted from where the population has been evacuated (to help them, click here) but…we are still talking about an explosive volcano so let’s be careful.
From fear of airport closure to health insurance providers not covering their travel, many have chosen to cancel or delay their visit to Bali. As a consequence, the tourism sector which is traditionally slowing down in the October / mid-December period due to the raining season is even more impacted by this threat.
As reported by the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), Agung’s potential eruption has cost the island of Bali Rp 264 billion for the tourism sector only, (and growing) since the alert was first raised on September 22nd 2017. The tourism influx dropped drastically, with many testimonials from hotels, restaurant, bars and other owners of touristic activities who are experiencing daily losses.
Economy Vs. Ecology?
Economy aside, there is a positive way to look at the decrease of visitors: the environmental benefits. Indeed, tourism is responsible for a significant increase in trash pollution and water scarcity and we are currently experiencing an environmental stress relief, a recovery from the trauma the ecosystem suffer from when its resources are overexploited.
First the trash. The raining season is usually called “Trash Season” as everything littered on the rivers banks during the dry reason is flushed down into the river itself and ends up on the beaches. Believe it or not, tourists do not like it. TripAdvisor and other websites are often full of visitors’ complains that Bali, Trip Advisor’s “Crowned World’s Best Destination 2017” is very dirty.
The grassroots campaign “I am in Bali now!” tried their best to convince travellers that Bali was safe to travel to (which is debatable…), backed-up by ad-hoc local government’s lobbying. However, for the sake of the island’s reputation, promoting Bali during Trash season might not the best thing to do as many would take back home stories of heavily littered beaches, sidewalks and rice fields.
The other thing to worry about is water. According to Dr Stroma Cole, 65% of Bali’s freshwater is used to cater for the tourism needs. It would not be a problem if….the island was not running on a 13.6% deficit as consumption is exceeding the supply of water available. As a result, less tourism is giving a rest to the water tables struggling to replenish naturally due to over-urbanisation and consumption.
Fire & water, Opposite Elements But Threat Companions.
The consequences faced by Bali’s tourism due to Agung’s threat of eruption are also good examples of what would happen in case of water scarcity. Water shortages would indeed have negative impacts on the island’s image and create operational issues leading to hotel closures with associated unemployment rise.
In that sense, it should be considered as a wake-up call for tourism actors to protect their own future and the future of the population who relies on a sustainable tourism industry for both employment and access to freshwater.
Both Agung’s volcano and the depletion of the water tables are time-ticking bombs, but while there is nothing we can do to avoid a volcano to erupt, there is a solution to the Bali’s water crisis through the Bali Water Protection program of IDEP Foundation, also a leading NGO in Mt Agung assistance to displaced population.
The Necessity For Sustainable Tourism
Clearly, less tourism is dramatic for the livelihood of the population as the economy is badly impacted by the decrease of arrivals leading to employment uncertainty. However, the very fact that tourism decrease is good for nature protection is an excellent example of the discrepancy between economic benefits and environmental care, of the dysfunctional and unsustainable relationship that tourism is having with the land it takes so much from.
The choice of the United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) for 2017 to be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development was the confirmation that the industry needs to become more sustainable for its own survival, but also for the destinations not to suffer from its negative impacts. Yet, action in Bali remains scarce.
Another aspect not to forget is the over-dependence on tourism. Ask youngsters about their professional ambitions after university and “working in hotels”, or related tourism activities will account for most answers. This over-dependence on tourism should be a wake-up call that traditional activities should not be overlooked when choosing a career.
Bali will eventually recover from Agung’s volcano threat. Experts are keeping a close eye on it, but it would be necessary for the same focus to be paid to clean beaches and to a rather sneaky (because out of sight) upcoming tragedy: water.