Interview with a tour guide : TRAVEL
Westeners arrive in paradise, relax and leave. But what is it like on the receiving end of the remorseless tourist tide? Budi, a guide in Bali, talks to Sue Wheat
Sunday 12 February 1995
A It wasn't my plan or my dream. It's just that there was nothing else to do. I didn't get into university, so I went to tourism school in 1986. At the time people didn't like tourism because they associated it with prostitution and thought that people who worked in it weren't good people.
When I went for the first time to Sanur Beach in Bali, where most of the best hotels are, I was amazed. It was a real culture shock. I wondered how so many Indonesian people could speak English - Indonesians are really proud if they can speak English - and of course I saw women swimming and sunbathing topless. I was an innocent young man and had never seen that before.
I studied tourism for one year with six months placement in a hotel. I really enjoyed it because I learnt a lot about the attitudes of people from all over the world. After that I went to Kuta, the main place where backpackers go, which was a crazy time. In those days, it was very famous for drugs. I worked selling soft drinks on the beach and then in an English restaurant and met a lot of people. There was no future in it. My friend and I just did it for fun.
Later I moved to Maumere, a town on the tiny island of Flores, and worked in a guesthouse. There weren't too many tourists then, and I enjoyed being with the people who came - they were completely different from the tourists who come now. They liked to know about the culture, and respected the people and their way of life.
I was the only person who spoke English, so I had a lot of opportunity to work with tourists.
People didn't complain about the trip being too difficult or the hotel being "horrible".
It was my dream to set up my own business and run a restaurant. In Maumere I worked in a guesthouse, a travel agency and a restaurant. Then I became a tour guide, saved money, and found a place for my restaurant in a village called Moni. Then there was the 1992 earthquake, and there were landslides and a lot of damage. I thought my future was finished because I knew the tourists would stop coming. I lost my job as a tour guide, all the businesses closed and I went back to my family in East Java for five months.
Q When the tourism stopped, how did people survive?
A The Australian government sent some food and help. In Moni, 90 per cent of business is in tourism. There was no income - but as long as there was just enough food, people were OK. They just waited for the tourists to come back.
Q Why do you think tourists' attitudes have changed?
A When a place becomes popular through a travellers' guidebook like Lonely Planet's, it changes everything. Those books don't tell you much about the people, just how to get there. Sometimes they are emotional about a place and say it's terrible. Tourists expect it be exactly as it has been described. They complain more as a result of the books - some of them list prices, for example, but don't take into account the fact that prices have changed. People just believe the books - even if they are five years old - and they fight about the prices with the local people. Now tourists are going to Indonesia not to see the culture or the people, but to compete with other travellers about how cheaply they can travel. They all want to be the winner, and don't realise how rude they are to local people.
Q What sort of things happen?
A In Moni you can get a room for £1 a night including free breakfast, and free tea and coffee all day. But the travellers still try to bargain! Sometimes, when it's low season and there aren't enough tourists, the locals feel they really need the money. So if a traveller comes along and haggles the price down to 50p, some might say OK. Then the other losman (guesthouse) owners complain, because they have no guests; the first travellers have told all the others they can go to this one for 50p instead of £1. If they have to pay £1, they complain and say it's expensive! This happened to my friend who has a losman, and he was very upset - he knows there are other places in Indonesia that charge more than £l. Sometimes he says he'll just put them up for free because he is so hurt. This competition between them is made worse by the guidebooks for low-budget travellers.
Q What do locals think about haggling?
A Locals bargain too, so it's normal. But sometimes people are upset by the way tourists do it, especially if they say "Oh, it's too expensive." When we Indonesians bargain, we smile and make a joke - then the seller is happy, not hurt. Tourists don't do it that way.
Q What are the consequences of tourism in Indonesia?
A Seventy-five per cent of tourism is good, because Indonesia is a big country and people need jobs. A lot of young people work in tourism now. Before, if you wanted to be successful, you had to be a doctor. Now you can work in all sorts of things through tourism. It's also good to learn about other countries, technology, and different attitudes. We always respect tourists - the tourist is king - because we want to be seen as good hosts. But if people spoil it, it's really sad. It can also affect young people, who don't take school seriously any more, and copy the tourists in lifestyle.
Q What do you think will happen in the next 20 years?
A Indonesia is a big country, with many different cultures. Everywhere will change, but I am sure Indonesia is changing slowly. Java has changed a huge amount - but that's not through tourism, it's through the media and TV. In other places, like Moni, there is still a strong religion even among the young. So even if tourists come, the local culture is still strong.
Q Which cultural misunder-standings are most common?
A Language is often a source of misunderstanding. Language tells you a lot about the culture. For instance, in Indonesia we never say "No". We will say "Thank you" and gesture no, but we never say it. When tourists say it, it can seem quite rude because we are just not used to it. Food is also really important; it is a way of showing how you are feeling, and you must always accept food and drink. Tourists like to go to local houses, but then they won't eat the food because they are worried - and this is really rude. For boys to see girls topless also causes misunderstandings. They see the girls and think they're easy, then if they go to kiss them they get into trouble. Now the tourists have become famous and the Javanese come to Bali to watch the naked girls, and children sit staring all day, watching them sunbathe.
Q Is there a difference between tourist and traveller?
A Travellers think they know everything about the local people and the country - but it's usually because some other traveller has told them. They want to see something new, they want it to be cheap, and they tell all the others about it. They do whatever they like. Some travellers are good, but 90 per cent are not: they can be very impolite. With the tourist, everything is organised, so they don't destroy as much. I prefer tourists; they go to specific places, the whole thing is more professional. Travellers are uncontrolled. They won't go to the places prepared for them; they want to go to other places. Then they spoil them - and they don't spend any money! Travellers always talk the same and say: "Don't go to Kuta because it's spoiled." Then they go somewhere else.
Q But how can you stop that?
A I don't mind if they come to a new place, but they must learn and share with the people. When they are rude, the local people are surprised and don't like it. In Kuta, a tourist place, sometimes locals aren't so nice because they want money. Travellers go to a new place, and assume everyone is the same there. The locals get upset.
! This interview first appeared in `In Focus', published by Tourism Concern, Southlands College, Roehampton Institute, Wimble-don Parkside, London SW19 5NN (081-944 0464). The tour guide's name has been changed.
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