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The Downside of Overtourism Following The Tourism Frenzy

Several major holidays throughout the year, like Eid, Christmas, and school breaks, consistently promote tourism activities. Beaches are always packed, mountains are teeming with climbers, and even public entertainment venues overflow with visitors. Based on these diverse options and locations, we can classify tourist attractions into two categories: natural and man made.

The economic sector definitely benefits the most from such large influxes of business activities, but what about the impact on other sectors?

The Downside of Overtourism Following The Tourism Frenzy
Residents and tourists crowd the Bromo crater caldera during the peak of the Yadnya Kasada celebration at the top of Mount Bromo via TEMPO/Aris Novia Hidayat

A study by Claudio Milano and Joseph M Cheer defines overtourism as “excessive visitor growth leading to population density resulting from temporary or seasonal tourism peaks, which have forced changes in lifestyle, access to facilities, and general well-being.” Their further research identified this phenomenon as a global issue occurring in various places like Bali, Berlin, Kyoto, Paris, Palma, and others. This phenomenon is just as concerning as other issues we face today, lurking within the excitement of economic growth and ready to destroy what we cherish.

Looking in Indonesia, overtourism has haunted various tourist attractions for the past decade. This is especially true after the rise of social media, which showcases the most photogenic aspects of each location, leading everyone to compete for the sake of “checking in” at a trendy tourist spot. Bali is the most common example. Everyone knows Bali; in fact, the name Bali is often more recognized internationally than Indonesia itself.

As we know, the Island of the Gods is renowned for its diverse choices of tourism spots: majestic temples, breathtaking beaches, and beckoning mountains. However, behind its beauty, Bali’s tourism also bears open wounds.

The study History of Balinese Culture by Supratikno Rahardjo and Agus Aris Munandar summarizes the impact of tourism on socio-cultural aspects, drawing from various research sources. It states that eight aspects of Balinese life have changed negatively since the rise of tourism. Data presented by the IDEP Foundation is even more alarming: groundwater levels have dropped by 50 meters over the past decade, particularly in southern Bali. Sadly, this also impacts lake and river water levels due to overtourism.

The Manifestations of Overtourism in Indonesia
Borobudur Temple via TEMPO/Abdi Purnomo

Borobudur, the Indonesian tourism icon and one of the 7 wonders of the world, is not exempted from the problem of overtourism. With its unique characteristics as a temple monument amidst fertile countryside, Borobudur receives an average of 3-4.5 million visitors annually, placing a significant burden on the structure. The pandemic temporarily reduced visitor numbers, but its effects may be short-lived. According to a research journal by Supratikno Rahardjo, Borobudur’s main challenge lies in dispersing visitors around the temple area to lessen the pressure on the main monument.

Recently, Coordinating Minister for Direct Investment Luhut Pandjaitan visited Borobudur alongside the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Sandiaga Uno, to assess the impact of visitor traffic on the temple’s decline. Concerned about the cultural heritage site’s capacity limitations, the government is planning visitor restrictions to prevent further damage.

There are inspiring examples that can be emulated to reduce overtourism. Nglanggeran Ancient Volcano Tourism is one such place that has successfully achieved a significant reduction in visitor numbers. Initially similar to other tourist attractions, this community-managed tourism site saw a gradual increase in visitors since 1999. By 2014, the number of visits peaked at 325,303 tourists, ultimately impacting the environment and disturbing the local community. Waste generation also reached a staggering 1.7 tons between 2014 and 2015.

They finally managed to escape the overtourism trap by implementing several methods: increasing entrance ticket prices, modernizing visitor management systems, and introducing lodging reservation management. More details can be found in the research journal titled Tourist Village Rejuvenation and Overtourism Management: The Nglanggeran Lifecycle Experience Tourism Village, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The impact of overtourism is severe enough that tourism initiatives are now proposing solutions like visit limitations, which is currently the most effective method for preventing capacity overload at tourist attractions. These restrictions are often combined with other ideas like ecotourism or good tourism management practices.

As humans, travel activities are part of our needs, whether for leisure or adventure. Overtourism is not inevitable; it simply requires good management and awareness among tourism stakeholders. Of course, our own awareness as visitors is equally crucial in preventing tourist attractions from being destroyed. Uncontrolled popularity, as Ranu Manduro illustrates with its once-pristine beaches now swamped by crowds, can irrevocably damage the ecosystem.

Written by M. Irsyad Saputra
Translated by Novrisa Briliantina

Cover photo:
Workers clean up rubbish at Kuta Beach, Bali (05/02/2017). The rubbish was carried away by the tidal waves and ended up littering the tourist area/TEMPO-Johannes P. Christo.

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