This is a response to Lotte Kuijstermans’ article: Residents’ perspectives towards community-based ecotourism: a case study from Lombok, Indonesia
To get in a Lombok state of mind as it were, before reading Lotte’s report, I have prepared a cup of tea in a Sasak pottery cup that I brought back from Lombok more than thirty years ago. Hand shaped and above all with a distinct smell and composition of the clay that gives tea infusions its particular taste, the teacup possesses a chronotopic memory.
While many changes, political, economic, social and cultural have taken place since the end of the 1980s some of the tourism aspects remain remarkably similar even though the transformation from the analog to digital times appears ever so striking. Structural inequality and dominant constructions of tourism imaginary seem to be very much resilient to change.
Top-down State proclamations of sustainability and responsibility are more often than not a token nod to global trends with buzz words such as “eco” community-based, pro-poor, empowerment, etc. Whether the principals of responsibility are implemented and how they are implemented should be a matter of detailed research scrutiny. Active participation of the local community at all levels of decision-making, inclusiveness, access, and ownership of the resources need all be taken into account.
Small-scale projects have been a proposed “alternative” to perceived negative impacts of tourism since the early 1960s, and all things “eco” emerged a decade later. Debate on authenticity introduced by MacCannel in 1976 was followed by numerous research and several adjectives (staged, hot, cold, existential, objective, nominal, indexical, iconic, etc.) making it clear that when different stakeholders are proclaiming tourism “green and authentic” or “primitive and authentic”, both examples used in Lotte’s paper, they may not be talking about the same thing at all. Also, the structural inequality within which most of global tourism is performed maintains the power structure between the state and the selected locality illustrated by the unease of the villagers regarding the proposed Mandalika resort area.
On the other hand, the predominant tourist imaginary of Indonesian islands found in tourism promotion, guides, travelogues, travel blogs, vlogs and at times also in research remains one of the exotic Other. The iconic rice fields and volcano landscapes along with friendly locals are portrayed in a quest of a traveler’s transformation in literature and film (Weber, 2020). When researchers come to the field they do not come without the visual baggage, and testimonies to that effect are included in many ethnographies. Falling in love with the island is as good as any research motivation, providing the construction of the imaginary is properly reflected upon. Besides, hosts and guests as a binary opposition also calls for some nuanced reflection.
Short time research, no matter how intensive, is only a preliminary or sondage research so data and analysis need to be understood in a thus limited context. More in-depth qualitative research usually requires months or even years to complete. Increasingly, however, ethnographic research takes a form of cumulative research, meaning several shorter kinds of research. These, in turn, may also represent a longitudinal study as is the case with Stroma Cole, referenced in Lotte’s report. I would suggest, though, some of her more topical work to be consulted (Cole, 2012 and Cole, 2017).
Although Lotte’s research was a short one it represents a possibility of being used as a part of longer cumulative research whether by her or expanded by other students.
One of the very intriguing findings in the research that was originally focused on natural attractions was how important cultural elements and traditions are for the local inhabitants. Also, visual data, only mentioned in passing could be fruitfully expanded upon, particularly with the help of a sound visual analysis (Rose, 2016). I would suggest keeping in mind that tourism is not merely an industry but a total social phenomenon. It is important not to lose sight of a wider historical context when doing tourism research, along with critical perspectives on the construction of tourism imaginary and structural inequality that tourism can help to address or sadly maintain or reinforce.
Last but not least, back to the Sasak cup of tea, I appreciate the opportunity to converse with engaging student work. Tampi Asih.