While tourism along the southern coast of Bali bounced back reasonably quickly after successive lockdowns, nature and adventure tourism were a little slower to gain traction. Notably, communities running village and adventure-based tourism experiences further inland were vocal about their need for support in the wake of the pandemic.
Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno has been open in his desire to promote Bali as a destination for ‘serenity, spirituality, and sustainability’. There are now dozens of tourism enterprises focusing on developing a regenerative and environmentally conscious approach to their services.
Regenerative and especially hiking tourism is making a comeback in Bali. Popular hiking trails on the Island of the Gods include the Campuhan Ridge Walk and Lempuyang Temple Hike. Other must-do hikes include sunrise on Mount Batur and, when possible, Mount Agung. One community-based tourism initiative, the Astungkara Way, has pieced together over 70km of heritage footpaths to create a hiking trail that helps connect travelers to parts of Bali seldom seen by many.
The Astungkara Way translates to mean ‘god willing,. Despite being founded in 2020, it is only now gaining popularity as an adventure, and activity-based tourism is finding its flow again in Bali since borders officially reopened in February this year. The Astungkara Way and learning center was founded by Tim Fijal. The Canadian environmentalist moved to Bali 12 years ago and fell in love with the place.
He quickly noticed, however, the impacts tourism had on the island. Speaking to reporters, he explained how the Astungkara Way came to be. ‘We spent about one year charting out the course for the trail…They’re all existing pathways but are pieced together so that each destination has its own regenerative rationale for being included on the trail’.
The trail avoids all major tourist attractions, even those with a farming or environmental appeal. The trail passes through small-scale community-based tourism projects and a number of regenerative agriculture initiatives with a tourism experience on offer too.
The Astungkara Way traverses an epic 74km from the south coast to the north of the island. The pathways cross through farmland, rural villages, and deeply sacred landscapes that cannot be found in guidebooks and travel blogs. The trial is offered as a 10-day experience, including activities that enable travelers to connect with local people and the landscape. There is a condensed 5-day version of the trail too.
Tourism officials in Bali are looking to diversify the market. They are promoting sports and maritime tourism and the island as a destination for major conferences and events. Yet, beneath it all, there is a consistent dialogue about the need to ensure that all developments, especially in the tourism sector, align with traditional Balinese values. Tourism operators, government leaders, and local people are eager to see the industry develop in a way that promotes the island’s unique heritage, culture, and relationship with the natural world.
Minister Uno has launched a campaign to promote lesser visited areas of Bali in the north and west of the island. Including places like West Bali National Park. Governor Koster is firm that he wants to see the roll-out of electric vehicles across the island and that the tourism sector should adopt the use of these vehicles as soon as possible, confirming just yesterday that he will create electric vehicle-only zones in leading tourism destinations by the end of 2023.
Local leaders have voiced their concerns in recent weeks about the impact development has on the natural landscape, especially the loss of coastal ecosystems and agricultural land for tourism infrastructure.
It is a tricky line to tread, as so much of Bali’s economy depends on tourism. There will always be an element of catering to what the masses demand. Tourism enterprises like The Astungkara Way offer a glimpse into what tourism officials in Bali say they want to see more of.
Yet this vision is juxtaposed with statements from the same administration that more flights are needed to bring more people to the island to generate economic development. As Bali continues in this post-pandemic era, perhaps a happy balance will establish itself as it does in nature.
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