Bali, an Indonesian island known for its breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has become a battleground between the influx of social media influencers and the preservation of its authentic charm. This article explores the impact of influencers on Bali, the growing tensions between locals and foreigners, and how responsible tourism can help maintain the real essence of this idyllic destination.
The Impact of Influencers on Bali
Increase in Tourism
The rise of social media influencers has contributed to a significant increase in tourism to Bali. With more than 300,000 foreign visitors entering the island every month in 2023, the majority of these tourists come from Australia, India, and Russia. This uptick in tourism has both positive and negative consequences.
Example: In one case, Russian national Luiza Kosykh posed naked in front of a 700-year-old sacred tree in Bali, causing outrage among the local community and resulting in her arrest and deportation.
Once a laid-back surfer’s paradise, Bali has transformed into a picture-perfect destination for “content creators.” The streets of towns like Canggu and Ubud now feature Instagram-worthy cafes and bohemian clothes stores, attracting hordes of influencers seeking the perfect backdrop for their social media posts.
Example: Wings Canggu restaurant, founded by Rosie Lakusa, has become a popular destination for influencers seeking the perfect background for their social media content.
Environmental and Cultural Consequences
This shift in the island’s identity has led to an increase in traffic, construction, and pollution. Moreover, some influencers have displayed a lack of respect for Bali’s Hindu culture and beliefs, further straining the relationship between visitors and the local community.
Example: In 2022, Russian influencer Alina Fazleeva posed naked at a holy site in Bali, sparking outrage among locals and prompting her to undergo a cleansing ceremony before being deported.
Tensions Between Locals and Foreigners
Exploitation of Business or Tourism Visas
Many digital nomads have exploited a loophole in the business or tourism visas, allowing them to stay in Bali for six months without paying taxes. This has caused resentment among locals who feel that these visitors are not contributing to the island’s economy and well-being.
Example: Canadian actor Jeffrey Craigen faced backlash and immigration intervention after filming himself performing the haka ceremonial dance naked at Bali’s Mount Batur, an inappropriate use of the local culture for content creation.
Several high-profile incidents involving disrespectful behavior by influencers, such as posing nude at sacred sites or engaging in dangerous activities, have exacerbated tensions between locals and foreigners. This has prompted some locals to take matters into their own hands, with vigilante social media pages monitoring and calling out bad behavior.
Example: A video of a foreigner riding a motorbike around Bali while standing on the seat angered locals, leading to the quote from Balinese business owner and activist Niluh Djelantik: “If you wouldn’t do these things in your own country, don’t do it in Bali.”
Balancing Tourism and Cultural Preservation
Addressing the Issues
As tourism makes up a large portion of Bali’s GDP, local authorities must strike a delicate balance between maintaining the island’s allure and taking a hard line on bad behavior. Calls for tougher entry requirements and better regulation of visas have emerged as potential solutions.
Example: Bali’s governor, Wayan Koster, proposed an official response to the bad behavior, which included restricting tourists from renting motorbikes, a common cause of traffic issues and dangerous activities.
Supporting Local Businesses and Culture
It’s important to note that not all tourists disrespect Balinese culture or exploit loopholes. Many visitors still appreciate and support local
businesses, contributing to the island’s economy and preserving its unique charm.
Example: Ketut Widiartawan, the owner of Bali Green surf school, runs the popular Instagram account Northsidestory. He emphasizes that the issues are confined to a small number of visitors and that many tourists still come to Bali to support local businesses and respect the culture.
Encouraging Responsible Tourism
Respecting Local Culture and Traditions
Tourists should be mindful of Bali’s customs and traditions, making an effort to understand and respect the island’s unique culture. By doing so, visitors can contribute to preserving the island’s beauty and authenticity.
Example: Ketut Widiartawan calls on locals and foreigners to “respect each other” and hopes that Bali doesn’t lose its beauty and culture due to the influx of tourists and commercialization.
Sustainable Travel Practices
Promoting sustainable travel practices, such as supporting local businesses, reducing waste, and engaging in eco-friendly activities, can help alleviate the environmental impact of tourism on Bali.
Example: Rosie Lakusa, the founder of Wings Canggu restaurant, encourages tourists to come to Bali to appreciate its “amazing culture and amazing nature,” urging them to learn about the local way of life and support the island’s sustainability.
Engaging with the Local Community
By interacting with the local community, tourists can gain valuable insights into Balinese culture, foster mutual understanding, and contribute to the island’s social fabric.
Example: Bali Green surf school, run by Ketut Widiartawan, offers an opportunity for tourists to engage with locals and learn about Bali’s rich surfing culture, while also supporting a locally-owned business.
In conclusion, the rise of influencers in Bali has led to a range of issues, including increased tourism, a shifting cultural landscape, and tensions between locals and foreigners. However, by embracing responsible tourism practices and respecting local culture, visitors can help preserve the real essence of Bali and ensure that this idyllic island remains a cherished destination for generations to come.