I initially wanted to submit this essay, which was originally written in Indonesian, to a writing contest. But, because of technicalities, I missed the deadline. Oh, well.
Honestly, I am worried about it.
On one hand, I would love for the Indonesian tourism industry to thrive. I would love for those places with high potentials to be visited by tourists. Besides the obvious economic benefits, as a nation, we would be able to brag to the world about the abundance of natural and cultural beauty in the country. We would have a bigger sense of pride.
But, just like everything in life, tourism has a downside.
First and foremost, once it thrives in a region, the residents will be too economically dependent on the tourism industry. No matter how big an industry is, its coverage is and will always be limited. Once the dominant industry collapses, the region’s economy will experience free fall; the effect would not be as severe if the economy is more diversified.
Of course, it tends to happen in places where the economies have been fragile from the very beginning, either because of the small population, geographical isolation, or the neglect by the local and/or central governments. But, every famous tourist destination does share the same problem: the tourists themselves.
Their overwhelming presence often makes the locals don’t feel at home in their own turfs, in where they are forced to adapt to the outsiders’ desires. If this problem becomes out of control, it will turn the locals xenophobic and cause social instability.
Of course, instability does not happen to every famous tourist destination. This is one hundred percent purely hypothetical on my part. Theoretically, it can happen. But, that does not mean it has happened or will happen. Even though I am sure some of the locals have grown to dislike the tourists, I don’t know if the dislike has ever caused long-lasting social instability.
But, I am one hundred percent certain the surge of tourists causes physical damages.
Human presence will definitely ruin places that are still natural and loaded with rich histories. Ideally, if one desires absolute conservation, one has to ban tourism altogether. But, if one wants to reap financial benefits from tourism (and I cannot judge those who do) while conserving at the same time, one has to limit the number of visitors.
The restriction will definitely limit the profits. Moreover, even if the risk of damage has become minuscule and the management is effectively implemented, the risk is still there as long as humans are present. We cannot guarantee every single visitor behaves like a civilised human being.
I believe the tourism must go on. But, the activities must be bound by sensible rules if one does not want turn a blessing into a curse.
And we should never be too dependent on that particular industry.
Oh yeah, I also have some words about Peter F. Gontha’s statement regarding Indonesian tourism.
He stated that we should give the tourism spotlights on beaches while sidelining gamelan. His reason? Foreigners prefer beaches over music.
Three reasons why I am disappointing with his statement.
First of all, Indonesia is not the only country with beautiful beaches; they are bountiful in other tropical and subtropical regions. Meanwhile, gamelan can only be found in Indonesia and there aren’t many countries that can boast similar musical instruments. Prioritising attractions that are bountiful in the world will strain our competitiveness.
Second, even if foreigners are admittedly more attracted to beaches, their interest in gamelan is also high. Believe or not, many of us travel overseas because we want to have a taste of foreign cultures. I am sure there are foreigners other than scholars and students who are interested in gamelan.
Third (and most importantly), prioritising beach tourism means we encourage the people to prioritise monetary benefits over everything and we encourage them to perceive their heritage as mere decorations. Satisfying foreigners’ hedonistic desires is more important than preserving our nation’s identity.
I am sure that was not his intention. But, if we put his suggestion into practice, we will encourage the citizenry who is already dismissive about their ancestral heritage to be even more dismissive.
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