This is a response to Manuela Blapp’s article: Creative tourism in Bali’s rural communities
Since the 1960’s tourism has been written about, from the host perspective, as the imperiled goose that lays the golden egg. From the Golden Hordes to the Irridex and Butler’s Tourism Area Life Cycle, the process described by Manuela Blapp in her disappointment with southern Bali is easily recognizable in early theories of destination development. Hundreds of papers written since then have advanced the same rather pessimistic outlook. Human nature is fundamentally greedy and bad, this literature alleges, and whether it’s local power brokers hungry for income or tourists hungry for social recognition, the golden goose is bound for the chopping block. Soon, a flood of tourists is bound to alter the attraction of local culture until it is no longer unique or attractive.
Though there is a lot of evidence supporting this view of tourism––and of humanity––I find it somewhat cynical and limited in usefulness. If tourism works badly in Southern Bali, where does it work well? That is a true gap in our knowledge. It is commendable that Manuela Blapp sought to address this gap in a practical and realistic way. The optimistic starting point and pragmatic recommendations represent a welcome original attitude toward issues of tourism (over)development that are typically researched just for the sake of lamenting what went wrong. The findings make it bluntly clear what went wrong––too many tourists came. To do it right, the recommendations say, there must be fewer tourists, and therefore also less tourism income. A more diverse economy is required. While bearing bad news for tourism investors and perhaps disappointing some locals, these recommendations are supported not just by the evidence collected, but by common sense.
The question raised by the findings, however, is how this situation may develop over time. Suppose one of the villages studied arrives at the recommended scenario: it is economically diverse, with agrarian and artisan jobs as well as a handful of part-time tourism jobs; a small but steady stream of loyal tourists interested in local culture are inexpensively attracted through social media and spend at least a few nights per visit. Then what? It is wrong to assume that either the local culture or tourists’ culture will remain static. As tastes and priorities change both in hosts and guests, under what leadership and principles should the situation evolve?
Social science is probably ill-equipped to address such difficult questions, but it is certainly impossible based on an ethnography of a few months. Recurring panel research that follows selected communities and individuals over years and decades may offer some insights. This expensive sort of research is, thankfully, beginning to appear in the tourism field, though not in the domain of destination management.