My expectations from the “Island of the gods” were high when I first arrived in Bali for the field research project of the Tourism Destination Management Master Program in 2015. Thus, I was disappointed I was when I realized that Bali, or at least the area in the South around Seminyak, was not the island paradise I imagined. Instead of palm trees, white sandy beaches, lush green rice fields and friendly locals I found foreign-owned designer boutiques, villas inhabited by westerners, overpriced restaurants, dirty beaches, and streets full of crazy motorbike drivers and annoying taxis. Bali’s tourism industry has undergone a serious makeover. Over the last decades, tourist numbers increased considerably and cultural tourism transformed into mass tourism. While this development has brought welfare, it also led to a vulnerable economy, over-dependent on tourism, an unequal distribution of income, pollution, commoditization of culture, waste problems, and water scarcity.
I did not give up that easily and started searching for the Bali I had anticipated. Only a few kilometers further north, in the rural areas, I found the island paradise I had imagined: pretty villages with traditional houses, rice paddies and temples at every corner, a relaxed atmosphere, warungs [small local restaurants] serving local food, and very welcoming and warm villagers. I realized how different the two worlds of mass tourism in the South and rural local life in the rest of Bali were. I was determined to contribute to the development of a more culturally and socially responsible form of tourism. Thus, I returned to Bali two months later to write my thesis (Blapp, 2015) in cooperation with the Community-Based Tourism Association Bali (CoBTA).
The CoBTA develops tourism in rural areas, with the goal to improve the welfare of the inhabitants. The organization recommends villages to engage in creative tourism, to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive community-based tourism (CBT) market. CBT aims to involve local communities in tourism development (Hall, 1996), to maximize the benefits for locals (Tolkach et al., 2013), and bring tourists closer to villagers (Butcher, 2003). However, success has been rare and achievements small (Tolkach& King, 2015). Creative tourism is an even more (inter) active successor of cultural tourism (Fernandes, 2011). The evolution from cultural to creative tourism includes a shift from passive to active consumption and from static, tangible heritage to living, intangible culture (Richards, 2011). Thus, instead of just looking at physical heritage like temples, creative tourists seek to engage actively with the culture of destinations (Richards, 2008; Voss, 2004). They wish to ‘live and feel like the locals’ (Ivanova, 2013; CTN, 2014) and to have meaningful interactions with the hosts (Richards, 2011). Creative tourism offers the opportunity to participate in a broad array of activities connected to the destination in fields such as music, visual arts, drama, sports, gastronomy, spiritual activities, languages, art-workshops or writing. Interactions between hosts and guests that develop creative potential and new skills are experienced by tourists as well as locals as meaningful.
Creative tourism and community-based tourism have overlapping attributes which complement each other in theory. Both concepts incorporate destination-internal resources, meaningful interaction between hosts and guests, and preservation of natural and cultural heritage. Furthermore, creative tourism seems to provide solutions to three problems of community-based tourism: lack of financial resources, loss of cultural identity and unequal power relations between hosts and guests. These theoretical synergies suggest that creative tourism may lead to tourism which is profitable in the long run, with a socially and culturally responsible outlook. In spite of the advantages which creative tourism seems to bring to communities, it was noted earlier that it could lead to commoditization. Particularly when basing products on the everyday life of locals, there is a fine line between creative tourism resulting in either diversification or serial reproduction. Hence, careful planning is necessary and knowledge required on how to develop creative products in villages without commoditizing the everyday life of locals. However, research of creative tourism has mainly focused on cities in developed countries. Research about creative tourism in rural areas is lacking. My thesis is built on the theoretical overlap between creative tourism and CBT and examined the current offer and future potential of creative tourism in five Balinese villages. I evaluated whether creative tourism is a suitable strategy for rural communities, by elaborating advantages, disadvantages and requirements of a possible merger of creative tourism and CBT. From a practical point of view the objective was to give advice on how to develop creative tourism in a way that is profitably in the long run and with a socially and culturally responsible outlook.
The thesis is based on an ethnographic approach, which enabled me to understand and describe the social worlds of the Balinese villages (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 2011). I studied locals and tourists to understand how products are developed and implemented. Data were gathered over four weeks, whereby participant observation in five different villagesresulted in over 150 pages of computer-written field notes. Additionally, I conducted 11 in-depth interviews with 14 experts and did interviews with 15 tourist groups, totaling 43 participants. I analyzed data with a qualitative content analysis, using a three-step approach suggested by Charmaz (2014): open coding, focused coding and theoretical synthesis.
Findings and discussion
The analysis reveals four core themes of creative tourism: The everyday life of locals in tourist activities, sharing the everyday life with tourists, meaningful interactions between hosts and guests, and cultural learning experiences for hosts and guests. Based on several positive and negative synergies between creative tourism and CBT, the thesis shows that in sum, creative tourism is a promising concept for villages if certain requirements are fulfilled. The findings partly confirm and extend the theoretical synergies between the two concepts. In total, five positive and one negative synergy between the two concepts are conveyed. Positive synergies mean that the merger of creative tourism and CBT creates an enhanced combined effect while negative synergies stand for a negative combined effect. The positive synergies are intangibility of creative tourism at low financial resources, more enthusiasm of locals to share their culture through creative tourism, preserving cultural heritage through creative learning experiences, more equal power distribution between hosts and guests through creative tourism and creative tourism involving locals without English knowledge. The negative synergy is that intangibility challenges the differentiation and marketing of villages.
Genuine interest in cultural exchange should be the main motivation of tourists and locals to engage in community-based creative tourism. To satisfy this interest a high level of interaction between hosts and guests, a high level of everyday life in the tourism product, and a low level of adaptation of this everyday life are necessary. This implies that locals should be willing to share their everyday life to a certain extent. The more these criteria are met, the more meaningful is the cultural learning experience and the better the genuine interest in cultural exchange for both tourists and hosts. This requires destinations to design their products more spontaneously. Tourism should not become the new everyday life of locals. Instead, their everyday life is the ‘tourist attraction’ in which guests can be integrated without major adaptations. Tourists need to be flexible, culturally conscious, and interested in participating and interacting.
These insights provide several practical implications for destination managers in Balinese villages and external supporting organizations, but also for villages in other destinations. In terms of destination development, it is recommended to first check, using a list of criteria, whether the vision of the villagers and their resources match the characteristics of community-based creative tourism. Furthermore, the number of tourists per day should be limited and incomes and jobs in the creative industries should be fostered, instead of fulltime jobs in tourism. In terms of marketing it is suggested to clearly define the target market and to understand its expectations. There should be more focus on free independent travelers, e-commerce and online marketing. Moreover, differentiation could be achieved by emphasizing interaction and local people in the promotion content. For product development the thesis offers an idea catalogue of cultural capital, to be used for creative activities. Specific advice is given on how to develop activities, homestays, eating, and transportation options. Furthermore, it is recommended to not only create packages but offer and price all items individually. External support is recommended for marketing and facilitating interaction between hosts and guests. For the former, umbrella marketing, to promote Bali as a creative tourism destination, and training about online marketing tools are suggested. For the latter, knowledge sharing of Balinese culture as well as training about creative tourism, focusing on the local’s role of teacher instead of servant, is advised.
For the visited villages, marketing is the biggest challenge and the highest priority. The villages were all ‘ready’ to welcome tourists, offering numerous homestays and different activities. However, in some villages there were hardly any tourists and the villagers did not know how to attract them. Other villages had many day tourists but could not prompt them to stay overnight. Whenever I asked members of the tourism committees if they have any questions to me, they generally asked: “Can you tell us how we can get more tourists?” One of the most important causes of this problem is that the destination managers’ budget and possibilities in the individual villages are very limited. Therefore, umbrella organizations like the CoBTA are needed to market Bali as a creative tourism destination. Possibilities are to set up a homepage featuring all creative tourism villages, to apply as a Creative Tourism Network member, and to cooperate with the Bali and Indonesian Tourism Board to strengthen the creative tourism brand of Bali.
Even though financial resources and know-how of marketing in the villages is limited there are some tools which can be used, particularly in the field of e-commerce and online marketing. Booking platforms such as i-like local or homestay.com are free to use and target tourists which are interested in creative tourism. Online marketing through Facebook or TripAdvisor can also be implemented with limited resources. The feasibility of applying such tools was shown by some recent developments. After my field research, one village has started to use ‘i-like local’. Another village created a new facebook page which is updated at least weekly. On this page, interaction takes place between the villagers, visitors and interested, potential new visitors. These initiatives indicate a positive prospect for a more culturally and socially responsible form of tourism.