Corporate resort development, residential tourism and resource grabbing

Once state-led tourism development and tourism zoning - as described in the previous chapter — have prepared the way for mass tourism streams, control of the tourism sector is often grasped by domestic elites in the country’s major urban centres or by transnational hotel chains. These tend to be more interested in short-term profit-making than in establishing close ties with local communities (Telfer and Sharpley, 2008). Individual and communal properties of local residents can become an easy target for corporate resort developers who take advantage of weak legal recognition of customary land rights and low environmental and social safeguards. Rapidly rising land prices in popular tourism destinations lead to pressure on local landowners to sell their properties to the highest bidder. Enclave-style resort tourism in prime beachfront areas tends to cut off local communities from access to natural resources that are vital for sustaining their livelihoods, such as near-shore fishing grounds, mangrove forests and freshwater resources. The increasing popularity of tropical tourism hotspots among lifestyle and retirement ‘migrants’ or residential tourists adds to the stream of short-term mass tourists and fuel further processes of dispossession, enclosure and displacement.

For most tourists staying in luxurious beachfront resorts in tropical destinations, the idea that these places may have caused dispossession and forced displacement seems remote. Few may be aware of the fact that resorts and other segments of the tourism industry are prioritised in terms of receiving scarce freshwater resources, while local communities may experience chronic water shortages. Yet small islands and coastal tropical settings are particularly prone to tourism-induced conflicts over land and other natural resources, as they face challenges of resource scarcity and limited carrying capacity. The following sub-sections examine various forms of resource grabbing and displacement induced by corporate resort and residential tourism development in Indonesia, Vanuatu, Costa Rica and Mauritius.

Resort tourism and resource grabbing in the Indonesian archipelago

Like many Southeast Asian nations, the Indonesian government has promoted tourism growth at any cost, leaving very little space for alternative visions. The

Corporate resort development 51 aggressive pursuit of mass tourism has led to widespread land grabbing, dramatic rises of land prices and increased competition for natural resources (Cole, 2017; Rosenberg Colorni, 2018). Such processes are particularly prevalent in Bali and islands in Eastern Indonesia.

Land grabbing and bay reclamation for tourism in Bali

On the Indonesian island of Bali, the dominant tourism sector has considerably changed property relations and dispossessed local people in several waves (Fagertun, 2017). Tourists have been lured into the ‘exotic paradise’ of Bali since the 1920s and 1930s when the island was part of the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch colonisers were the first to discover the island’s economic potential for tourism, and the island was further popularised in Europe by a number of foreign-authored books and the works of visual artists that presented the island as a modern-day ‘Garden of Eden’ (Vickers, 2012; Cabasset, Couteau and Picard, 2017). Due to the reorganisation of Balinese society under Dutch colonial rule, local elites were able to occupy powerful administrative positions and gained greater control over the island’s resources, which can be described as a first wave of dispossession (Fagertun, 2017).

In 1969, Suharto’s autocratic and repressive government opened up the island to international tourism with the backing of a Master Plan drafted with support from the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (Cole, 2012). Large-scale dispossessions and forced expropriations were instigated in the 1980s and 1990s by turning customary land into state property, which then could be allocated for ambitious tourism and infrastructure projects - such as Nusa Dua in Jimbaran Bay - in the name of ‘national development’ (Warren, 2009). This large-scale land conversion from small-scale farming to tourism megaprojects was the second wave of dispossession (Fagertun, 2017).

After the fall of Suharto and the introduction of economic and administrative reforms in the late 1990s, local governments in Indonesia were able to impose and collect their own taxes; in Bali, land taxes have been based on the market value of a piece of land rather than its actual use (Cole and Browne, 2015). This regulation made land taxes unaffordable for farmers in the vicinity of tourist hotspots, thus forcing many of them into distress ‘sales’, usually in the form of 99-year lease contracts that bar locals from accessing the land for at least three generations. Only few farmers have been able to resist offers from the tourism industry to lease their land (Rosenberg Colorni, 2018).

It is estimated that the small island has lost nearly 25 per cent of its agricultural land - including a large share of its iconic rice terraces (Figure 4.1) - over the past 25 years (Rosenberg Colorni, 2018). This third wave of dispossession is still ongoing (Figure 4.2) and new megaprojects have been planned in some of the few remaining undeveloped areas of the island (Box 4.1).

Bali’s iconic rice terraces, protected under UNESCO’s World Heritage programme

Figure 4.1 Bali’s iconic rice terraces, protected under UNESCO’s World Heritage programme

Large tourist resort next to rice fields in Ubud, Central Bali

Figure 4.2 Large tourist resort next to rice fields in Ubud, Central Bali

Box 4.1 The controversial Benoa Bay Reclamation Project

Until recently, Benoa Bay was one of the last remaining undeveloped areas in Southern Bali. In 2011, the bay - which covers a total area of 2,000 hectares, including 1,375 hectares of mangroves, five rivers, twelve village communities, and approximately 150,000 residents - was declared a maritime conservation area by presidential decree. Yet, in 2014, then President Yudhoyono revoked the protected status of Benoa Bay shortly before leaving office, thus annulling his earlier presidential decree and turning the area into a development and exploitation zone. Bali’s former governor authorised the Indonesian developer PT Tirta Wahana Bali Internasional (TWBI) to develop an area of 838 hectares in Benoa Bay on a 30-year concession, extendable by another 20 years. TWBI had plans to develop the bay into a multi-billion USS mega-tourism project, consisting of 12 artificial islands modelled after Dubai’s Palm Islands. The developer’s website brands the project as “[a] sustainable development project that integrates the origins of Balinese culture & traditional customs in the development of islands of resorts, theme parks, community areas, residential clusters to become the new iconic tourist-destination in Bali” ( Yet, in contrast to the claims of the developer that the project will ‘revitalise’ the bay and enhance the environment of the area through its ‘eco-sustainable development concept’, several studies found that the reclamation of Benoa Bay would have profoundly detrimental impacts on its fragile ecology and the local culture. Opponents have raised concerns that the project would damage coral reefs and mangrove areas, accelerate sedimentation of the bay, exacerbate water scarcity and pollution, and trigger widespread flooding of large parts of southern Bali.

Shortly after the reclamation plans became publicly known, opposition formed under the acronym ForBALI - The Bali People’s Forum to Reject the Reclamation of Benoa Bay. This association brought together environmental activists, village leaders, politicians, journalists, academics, students, and artists and has become widely known by its slogan Bali Tolak Reklamasi (Bali Rejects Reclamation). Between 2015 and 2019, the movement organised protest marches, public fora and concerts to voice their determination to resist the project. It also collated a map with 22 sacred Hindu sites which were deemed at risk of disappearing should the reclamation project have gone ahead.

The controversy surrounding the planned project took an unexpected turn when the location and building permit of TWBI expired in August 2018. Under Indonesian law, if a permit is not renewed after four years, it is automatically cancelled. The company never received government approval to extend its permit, as the Ministry of Environment had not approved the developer’s environmental impact assessment. Following the expiry of the permit, local activists called on President Widodo to re-establish the bay’s protected area status. In October 2019, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries designated around 1,200 hectares of the Benoa Bay as a conservation zone, thereby banning reclamation projects, while allowing religious and cultural activities to continue.

Sources: Cabasset, Couteau and Picard, 2017; Ardhana and Farhaeni, 2017; Benge and Neef, 2018; Suriyani, 2018; Gokkon 2019

The rapid transformation of Bali into Indonesia’s prime tourism destination has placed ever greater pressure on land and water resources, leading to the rapid decline of traditional wet-rice agriculture and dwindling local control over resource governance. Eighty-five per cent of the tourism industry is owned by non-Balinese, leading to a lack of accountability, gross power imbalances and a situation in which external investors can exploit natural resources without being directly affected by the negative implications of doing so (Cole and Browne, 2015).

The island’s long-standing water management crisis has also caused enormous environmental problems and social conflicts (Cole, 2012; see also Benge and Neef, 2018). The diversion of water from agricultural areas to tourism hubs has led to growing distributional inequity between the tourism industry and local farmers (IDEP, 2015). Coupled with the unregulated exploitation of groundwater, this has allowed the tourism industry to consume water at a rate faster than its ability to replenish (Cole, 2012). Further pressure on water resources comes from the increasing number of residential tourists, mainly western retirees, who have been attracted by the island’s pleasant climate, relative security, warm hospitality and cheap living cost (Bell, 2017).

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