The Blog Spot

An ongoing series of Black narratives

When it’s Complicated: Irresponsible Tourism and Neo-Colonialism in South East Asia

August 15th, 2015

Neocolonialism, neo–colonialism or neo-imperialism is the geopolitical practice of using capitalism, business globalization, and cultural imperialism to influence a country.

During my first day in Bali, no… within my first couple of minutes in Bali, I could feel a difference in the environment from when I was in Japan. When you Google image pictures of Bali you will likely see beautiful beaches and gorgeous temples, but when you get off the plane the reality is not completely glamorous.

If you look at my first posts from Bali you will see a lot of amazing elements of a very visible and strong culture, but even that is only a piece of a bigger story.

Most of us have seen a movie or music video at this point where the kids are knocking on the door of the car driving down the street trying to ask for money; the one usually set in Africa or Jamaica or some other “Third World Country”. But how many of you all have experienced the child no older than 12 years of age with a baby wrapped around her actually knocking on your taxi or car door? And how many of you can imagine the feeling you get when you’re too slow to get your money out or tell the driver to stop before he pulls off… but you’re not too slow to look up to see the pain in the child face. That was just the first day.

It’s extremely difficult for me to reconcile the difference between the houses I’ve seen and businesses I’ve entered owned by the local Balinese and those owned by non-local foreigners- most of whom are white. I often wondered how is it that the natives of Bali could be doing worse in their own country? How is it that ninety percent of restaurants in Bali are owned by non-Balinesans? Ninety percent!

During my second week in Bali, I was discussing this with some people, one of which is Balinesan and one who was not. During our conversation I had mentioned how I heard that tourism became very bad about 5-6 years ago changing much in Bali since then. I asked why things started to get so bad and the reply was so unexpected I almost laughed actually. “Julia Roberts”. Apparently, ‘Eat. Pray. Love’ created a huge boost in tourism and immigration in Bali. In areas like Ubud for example, where the area is surrounded by farmland, farmers have been forced to sale their land because the land isn’t as lucrative as it would be with a hotel rather than their farm.

I know that there is an ideology that tourism brings money into countries and helps their economy, but with a closer look one could question whether this economic boost actually is impacting the indigenous people of Bali. After now having traveled to five countries with at least two of them with similar issue, I’m left wondering what it looks like to be a responsible tourist that avoids participating in these systems of Neo-Colonialism. How does one continues to be a traveler without being a part of the reason foreigners are making more money in places like Bali than the people native to that country?

Many people, I’m sure, will see this from an individualistic and/or business orientated lens- “Is it wrong for me or someone with funds and support to start a business in countries like Bali? Isn’t it just smart business for companies looking to expand to take advantage of these opportunities?” I’m not much of a business minded person myself. Therefore as a people-orientated person my thinking is this – isn’t our moral obligation to think about the full impact of our actions on other people? Is it not our moral obligation to not only think of ourselves but of the larger community?

In a world anchored in capitalism, of course it’s a pipe dream to think I can throw my community centered morals at people and get much more than being considered naïve. I mean its impractical anyway right? What does that even mean? What does that look like in practice? Unfortunately my blog is not a book on how to accomplish what’s sometimes called “responsible tourism” or community centric immigration/ business practices. But I’ll humor the thought a bit with these thoughts:

1) Where are you spending your money when you travel? Are you supporting local businesses or putting your money in the hands of corporations that are probably paying unlivable wages to their local workers while taking more and more money out of the community?

2) If you moving to a country with a struggling economy and looking to start a business, how much are you paying your employees? Who are your employees? Are locals more likely to be working in lower paying roles?

3) Have you considered partnering with a local business that’s already doing what you’re doing so that you’re building the community rather than competing with it?

Bonus- When moving to a new country, are you learning the local language or are you expecting the locals to cater to you?

This post could have been a book. It’s incomplete and riddled with complex situations that are less than fully thought out. The goal of this post is not to draw conclusions but to name observations and raise questions for all of those reading this currently traveling or planning to travel. It is my goal to be a responsible traveler/tourist and hopefully inspire more of us to have the same goal. I welcome feedback as always and hope I provoked a few thoughts.

Justin Sankara