Bali is back – but so are the tourists' shenanigans.
The Indonesian resort island has seen a rash of reports about badly behaved foreigners since it fully reopened to international tourism in March.
Over the past month, a Canadian and a Russian have been deported for public nakedness, a foreign tourist went viral for complaining about beach vendors, and an Estonian pageant contestant made waves after she accused the police of being corrupt.
The rash of incidents underscores how tourism has become a double-edged sword for the Hindu-majority island, which is nevertheless economically dependent on the sector.
"Bali does need tourists. But if they break our norms and rules, we should educate them so they do not go too far. If they're still stubborn, we should deport them," said local entrepreneur and activist Niluh Djelantik on Instagram. "Let's maintain dignity and respect our land of birth together."
Vexed by vendors
Last month, a short video showing a white woman complaining about the tourist mecca of Kuta Beach, which she said was "the worst", sparked a debate after it prompted the island's authorities to round up about 50 beggars and homeless people living in the area.
Some called the woman, who claimed she had been harassed by vendors while walking on the beach, a "Karen" – pejorative shorthand for entitled, middle-class, middle-aged women – while others agreed with her general sentiment that the peddlers of bracelets, beach sarongs and massage services were "annoying".
Indonesian Nanda Yudha said on Instagram that sellers who try to "force" people to buy their goods were an issue, adding: "Sometimes they also pushed and touched us. Don't be naive, that's our problem that we have to face."
Bali-based cultural anthropologist Kelli Swazey, however, had little sympathy for the unknown woman's complaints.
"It's infuriating that punitive action has been taken towards some of the most vulnerable folks right now on the basis of something some white lady complained about regarding her vacation," Swazey wrote on Twitter. "I really hope this Karen has already left the island."
Peddlers are a common sight on Bali's beaches, especially those that are favoured by foreign tourists such as Kuta, Petitenget and Seminyak.
But Nengah Trisnasih, who has been selling bracelets at Seminyak for 15 years, rejected the accusation that she or the other beach vendors "forced" people to buy.
"Many tourists in Bali are kind," she said. "If they do not want to buy, it's fine by us."
The 40-year-old said she had struggled badly over the past two years, with her daily earnings falling from 100,000 rupiah (US$7) to "almost nothing" amid the pandemic.
"I still went to the beach, though, hoping that there would be a tourist who took pity on me and bought my stuff," she said. "Now I'm worried something like this will happen again, because it will impact all of us."
Nengah's friend, Ana, blamed street hawkers for being too pushy, unlike the beach vendors like her who she said had "membership cards" to sell goods on the beach.
"We all are very orderly here, no guest has ever complained," the 50-year-old said. "I hope this will not happen again, because I am happy now seeing visitors returning."
The tourists who take it upon themselves to get naked in public are not so welcome, however.
Responding to the recent deportations of a Canadian man who filmed himself dancing in the nude on Mount Batur, and a Russian influencer who stripped naked for a photo shoot on a 700-year-old tree in a temple compound, Balinese social activist Niluh Djelantik said the island didn't need such "trashy tourists".
"You are welcome to have a good time and enjoy our island. But if you don't respect us, deportation and consequences are waiting," she wrote on Instagram. "As people of tradition, we have a big responsibility and cleaning ceremony to be done when our holy places are treated with no respect by you. Do you know what it means? Where is your empathy? Use your brain next time to learn about the country you are visiting."
After almost two years of pandemic travel curbs, Bali dropped its quarantine requirement for vaccinated visitors completely in March and resumed the visa-on-arrival process.
Last month, the island's airport welcomed more than 114,000 foreigners, up from just 34,000 in March and a far cry from the paltry 45 international visitors it recorded in the whole of 2021. This month, Bali has been averaging about 6,000 foreign arrivals and departures per day.
But the return of mass tourism has also brought back concerns about congestion, rising prices and gentrification – as well as entitled foreigners ' misbehaviour.
Tourism, however, is Bali's lifeblood – employing almost one-quarter of the island's 4.32 million population pre-pandemic and accounting for about two-thirds of its economy.
In 2019, some 6.2 million foreigners visited and their absence in the intervening years has been keenly felt. Bali's economy shrank by more than 9 per cent in 2020 and stayed mostly flat last year, recording just 0.07 per cent growth. Indonesia's central bank forecasts the island's economy will grow by 6 per cent in 2022 if tourism fully rebounds.
In a bid to entice more tourists back, Bali governor Wayan Koster last week called for Jakarta to recognise that Covid-19 had become endemic on the island, with cases stable "at 10 to 20" per day and a positivity rate that is "always under 2 per cent".
"The stable situation continues to be maintained even though we have a no-quarantine policy and visa-on-arrival policy for international travellers from 60 countries," he was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post in a letter signed on Tuesday.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post .
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