Bali’s natural beauty and rich culture have made it a tourist magnet but since COVID-19, the island is struggling.
Locals are now questioning their dependence on tourism and the over-development it has unleashed.
Marcello and the lifeguards of Kuta Beach rise bright and early for their morning meeting and surf sprints. But they know it’s going to be a quiet day. While the iconic beach normally attracts 50 000 visitors a day from around the world, today the head lifeguard expects only 50 people.
“Nobody makes a life on the beach”, says Marcello. “People who sell massage, or merchandise on the beach…I heard they all go back home to their village. It’s a very sad situation.”
It’s a common story across the island, even in its remotest corners.
Off Bali’s east coast on the small island of Ceningan, Wayan lost his job at a hotel, and had to return to farming seaweed with his family. It’s the same story across Ceningan.
“Before we had 100 per cent tourism. Now 80 or 90 percent they are doing seaweed farms”, says Wayan who’s had to cop a 75% pay cut. “We had no choice but to return to nature.”
But some Balinese see the crisis as an opportunity.
“This is a wake-up call for all of us”, says Christia, a young businesswoman. “We realized that we cannot just depend on one industry.”
In this visually stunning story, reporter and cameraman Matt Davis travels around Bali and discovers an island in the midst of some serious soul searching.
He meets locals who are questioning the unhinged development that’s accompanied the tourist boom and who want to chart a different course for the future.
“Bali tourism industry is based on two things, nature and culture”, says rock star Robi Gede, “and we cannot sacrifice them”.
Politicians and businesspeople want to fix the congestion, pollution and rubbish problems and encourage a different type of tourism. One that’s sustainable and benefits locals more.
“I think it’s a good time for reflection this year”, says Christia, “Go back to loving our island and make sure that people don’t abuse our island as well.”
“We hope that when the tourists come back, they are coming with a good energy, they are not littering, with more respect for the local rules”, says Marcello. “Come with a good vibe.”
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