Hidden Costs of Tourism; The Resource Strain

Real Indonesia is passionate about tourism that supports and builds local communities.

As the dates of our Community Development Practice Exchange draw closer, we’re continuing our investigation of the hidden costs of mass tourism, and the impacts it can have on local host communities.

When we visit another country for a holiday, we switch into relaxation mode.

We indulge in long showers and spa baths, we drink and eat more than we usually would, we go to more places, and do more things.

These relatively small actions seem quite innocent, and on an individual level, they are. But if you add together the millions of individuals indulging in the same little luxuries over the course of each year, the impacts that this can have on local resources starts to become clear.

As a tourist destination becomes more popular, the price of housing, goods and services in the area rises. This can often have the negative consequence of pricing locals out of the market.

Land that was previously used by locals for farming is often bought up by Hotel and Resort chains, reducing the amount of arid land available for farming.

The influx of tourists can also have impacts on the quality and distribution of water amongst local communities. With water diverted to the hospitality industry, this often means there is less available for local use.

There is certainly evidence to support the claims that increases to cost of living and property prices are offset by the financial opportunities provided by the tourism industry in these areas.

While tourism does provide financial opportunities to host communities, issues of leakage can prevent these communities from reaping the benefits of the money visitors are spending. The direct income from tourism that stays in the local community is whatever is left after taxes, profits and wages are paid out to staff and organisations operating outside of the area. This can sometimes amount to huge sums of money.

Take all-inclusive packages as an example. It’s estimated about 80% of traveler’s expenditure on an all-inclusive package tour goes to international companies, rather than the host communities.

But plenty of people visit Bali without booking an all-inclusive tour. Is tourism on the island causing any other issues with resource access and distribution?

We talked to our partner, Five Pillar Foundation Co-Founder, Alan J. Yu, Ph.D. to get some deeper insight into how mass tourism has affected the distribution of local resources in Bali, and what problems local Balinese face as a result.

Alan agrees that there is less land available on the island for farming today, although this isn’t just due to land being bought up by large resorts or hotel chains.

“When land is sold for investment, the property taxes in that area go up. Many actually cannot afford to be farmers anymore, and as a result sell away ancestral land and then work in the tourism sector.”

Selling off ancestral land to avoid high property taxes is a tempting offer for many farmers, but the consequences can be far-reaching.

“There have been many subak communities that have shut down as a result of people migrating away from rural and into tourist areas.”

Subak communities are the farmers who work together to decide on the equitable distribution of water between the rice farmers so that rice can be grown sustainably across the island.

Water access is another issue faced by the Balinese community as a result of mass tourism to the island.

The tourism industry requires freshwater for visitors, who will use it for drinking, hygiene, cleaning and recreation just to name a few. Visitor demand must of course be fulfilled by the local supply. Yet because tourism is seen as a vital industry in many countries, governments often make it a priority to give the tourist industry access to plenty of water.

 According to research from the Griffith Institute of Tourism Australia, there is a large disparity between the amount of water consumed by tourists versus the amount consumed by local populations. This difference is most pronounced in low, and mid-income countries.

The findings of the study, which surveyed water usage across 21 countries, found that in G7 countries and advanced economies water distribution per guest was quite close to that of the local population. Whereas in other countries, like India and Indonesia, the amount of water used by guests in comparison to locals varied widely.

A 2012 study from the University of the West of England showed that an estimated 60 per cent of Bali's water was being consumed by the tourism industry.

According to Alan, the distribution of water has had tangible negative impacts on local farmers.

“There are some communities north of Ubud that can no longer plant and grow rice year-round, because of the fact that there is not sufficient water. So, nowadays, they may do just one cycle of rice rather than two or three cycles. They are in a position where they may need to do something different like transition into organic permaculture.”

While tourism is providing opportunities in places like Bali, the benefits come with their own set of repercussions.

As visitors to Bali, or any tourist destination, the responsibility lies with us. Even small or innocent actions can have impacts long after we’ve flown back home.

No one wants to skip out on indulging in some luxury on their holidays, but each of us can help mitigate the impacts of tourism on local communities during our stay.

Take advantage of any green options your hotel might provide, like re-using your bath towels instead of opting for fresh one’s each day. Consider a shorter shower if you’ve already spent all day soaking at the spa or swimming in the pool. Buy local produce, and eat at local restaurants outside of the resorts, to help your tourist dollars reach local farmers and business owners.

As a co-founder of Five Pillar Foundation, Alan develops educational experiences that emphasize intercultural dialogue, and service learning for both visitors and the local community and focus on empowerment and building leadership skills. He is a member of multiple international associations associated with leadership and development. Alan graduated with a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership & Education Sciences.

Real Indonesia strives to provide travel experience that support local communities and provide solutions to some of the negative effects of mass tourism. By working with our local partners and supporting local businesses. From accommodation, to meals, to tour guides, we ensure the profits from travel experiences benefit the local host communities we visit and help to protect and preserve the natural landscape and culture that makes Indonesia so unique.