29 Sep 2021
Founder and Director of Indonesia Ecotourism Network (INDECON)
Discussing tourism is always fascinating because this sector is able to not only provide jobs and improve the income of its actors but also bring in foreign exchange to a country. It is no wonder this sector is often cited as a flagship sector by many countries, including Indonesia. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) states that the global tourism growth reached 4% in 2019, or around 1.5 billion people had engaged in traveling. Despite remaining strong in 2019, this growth actually declined from the growth in 2017 (+6%) and 2018 (+6%). Generally, the global tourism growth in 2019 showed an improvement around the world. The Middle East Regions (+ 8%) led the growth, followed by Asia and Pacific (+ 5%). The growth of international tourist arrival in Europe and Africa (was both + 4%), while America experienced 2% growth. (https://www.unwto.org/barometer);
However, the fact showed a completely different situation for 2020. From February 2020 until this article was written, global tourism had collapsed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Global tourism had declined by up to 73% in 2020 and in semester 1 of 2021 (January-May 2021), it had declined by up to 85% compared to 2019, before Covid-19. Meanwhile, in the Asia and Pacific region, in 2020 it declined by up to 84% and the January-May 2021 period recorded the highest collapse, namely by 95%, compared to 2019. In Indonesia, in 2020, it declined by up to 78% and was estimated to be worse during the first semester of 2021. This caused an income reduction for approximately 32 million people engaged in the tourism sector, and more than 1 million people lost their jobs.
The rise of the tourism sector is heavily reliant on accelerated vaccinations of each country, multi-party collaboration, and innovation and creativity. The vaccine will be the primary requirement for people who want to travel, in addition to other requirements, such as a Covid-19 negative health checking. Travel restriction is predicted to become a challenge to recover the tourism sector, due to it causing huge discomfort and cost for tourists. But behind this, Covid-19 has made a lot of parties realize the significance of implementing a sustainable tourism concept, the prominence of establishing a quota to not only provide a comfortable space for tourists but also minimize the negative impact on natural resources; the importance of applying service standards, especially on cleanliness and health. Covid-19 also made all tourism actors realize the importance of maintaining destination resilience and the significance of integrating tourism with other sectors. Making tourism actors stop focusing only on the economic aspect, but also the importance of managing its impact on the environment and social culture aspect. Covid-19 has also made us realize how important it is to collaborate with various parties in managing tourism.
The aforementioned issues are things that should be done by tourism actors in the first place, prioritizing standards in tourism services and facilities so that traveling can be done comfortably and safely. Tourism has a strong push that often becomes a source of complacency for people managing it. Rapidly increasing revenue sometimes unconsciously pushes managers to receive unlimited visitors, which in the end, results in discomfort and reduced quality of attraction due to damages. Managers usually have a hard time saying enough is enough and implementing limitations, thinking more about short-term profit, and do not have a long-term strategy. This phenomenon had already happened before the Covid-19 pandemic, with tourist overcrowding at one time at certain attractions. This phenomenon is called overtourism, which experts call an irritation in management and needs to be sorted out immediately. Issues resulting from this are not small, not only environmental but also social problems, such as tourists and school children competing to get seats in public transportations, daily workers or loud noises happening because tourist groups are enjoying their vacation until midnight, and traffic congestion. The city of Barcelona, Venice, and also villages in the middle of Seoul, also many tourist attractions in Indonesia, have been developing uncontrollably and always become a hot topic for us to find solutions.
The phenomenon mentioned above indicates that tourism is like a sharp, double-edged sword. On the one hand, it opens huge job opportunities, improves the economy of the local region, its actors, and local community, and can serve as a magnet for other sectors to grow. Tourism can also be used to contribute to natural and cultural conservation efforts. This is if tourism is managed correctly and appropriately. If not, tourism presents a risk of causing a negative impact, both on the environment and social-cultural aspects. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize capacity building and community awareness. This becomes one of the main duties that should be carried out by the government, as declared in the current cabinet’s mission, namely human capital development. No matter how beautiful the nature of a destination, or how attractive a culture, if the humans managing it do not have a good mentality, this tourism destination is vulnerable to development. One of the main pillars of sustainable tourism is where managers are required to demonstrate the implementation of a management system according to the sustainability indicator. In this case, surely a strong institution is needed, as well as a management system that ensures the engagement of many parties, the management of the impact from activities, and distribution of benefits from tourism.
In Indonesia, currently, the National and Local Governments are promoting the development of tourism villages. Tourism is being claimed as a potential sector to improve the income of the villages and villagers. This is supported by the fact that villages have their own managed fund, then reinforced by policies that encourage village-owned enterprises to manage business opportunities from the advantages owned by the villages. Of course, this is very exciting, because a community-based tourism concept is applicable. However, we have to remember that developing tourism in villages needs to consider the social-culture factor. Tourism must be able to be a glue that facilitates harmony for villagers, not the other way around. It takes efforts to align perspectives and vision on tourism development from parties with interest in villages, including the Local Government. Nowadays, we see many developments are more oriented toward only building facilities and businesses, but not paying attention to the sustainable tourism principle to integrate other sectors in the villages. Building facilities should follow the needs of the tourism activity that will be developed. Tourists visit villages to enjoy the rural atmosphere, interact, and learn about daily lives in villages. A clean and friendly village should be a wonderful choice.
The sustainable resource management principle needs to be developed with the community, so that farmers, breeders, crafters, artists, and others remain focused on their means of livelihood. Tourism is present to create an added value, as a tourist attraction. If this is developed well, naturally breeders will clean their enclosures because tourists will visit to milk their cattle, all the while gaining new knowledge on living in the village. On the other hand, the planning aspect of village tourism seems to be forgotten, despite it being a critical foundation in developing tourism. Arranging space according to the tourism activity that will be developed is crucial. Developing a code of ethics or rules for visiting tourists is extremely important to maintain the harmony of villages and preserve the local wisdom owned by villagers. Collaboration between tourism village managers and academics and civil society organizations working on community empowerment becomes important. The latest advancement in information technology and social media demands all tourism managers to transform and use the advancement of digital technology. Tourism village/attraction managers can develop a digital system for reservation, payment, monitoring, and interpreting.
Post Covid-19 pandemic, there is a concern of retribution traveling, where many tourists go on travels because they have dearly missed it. This has occurred in several countries, for example in China. This surely needs to be anticipated to avoid the negative impact of the visits on the environment and the potential of increased Covid-19 transmission. If we truly realize it, Covid-19 has reminded us all to implement the sustainable tourism principle, while continuing to maximize the benefits of the tourism sector. Let’s hope “Sustainable Tourism” is not just a slogan created by parties with interests, but is really implemented to ensure the sustainability of tourism destinations/attractions and tourism villages. This has been responded by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy by issuing the Regulation of the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy/Tourism and Creative Economy Agency Number 9 Year 2021 on the Guideline of Sustainable Tourism Destination and Certification Program for Tourism Villages. This is surely appreciated, even though capacity building programs for actors and local communities on sustainable tourism still need to be carried out. Fingers crossed.