Interpreting Sustainability in Tourism in Bangka Belitung

Earth Day has been commemorated every 22 April since 1970 and it has been celebrated globally since 21 years ago. Referring to, the theme of 51st Earth Day in 2021 is "Restore our Earth", to show a pragmatic idea that refutes that only mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change and environmental damage experienced by the earth will be enough for us to live. It takes a lot of steps and actions both individually and collectively to keep our environment livable. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme of recovery is relevant because this pandemic provides a clear picture that our health is also related to the state of our environment and its sustainability.

In tourism, the themes of sustainability also color the themes of the celebration of the World Tourism Day (WTD) commemorated every 27 September, because many sustainable development goals are related to the multi-sector tourism economy, either directly or indirectly. Even though Bangka Belitung wants to position itself as a world destination, the echoes of WTD are not sensed here. The themes that are carried out every year do not get too much attention locally, even though the context is always actual and related to tourism development in any part of the world. For example in 2019, the theme of WTD is Tourism and Jobs: A Better Future for All, the context had been even stronger in 2020 with the Covid-19 Pandemic. As stated by the Secretary General of UNWTO in his official WTD 2020 speech, this pandemic has made the world "stagnate" and tourism has become one of the hardest-hit economies with millions of jobs in critical condition, and this is also being felt by areas in Bangka Belitung that are starting to feel the economic impacts of tourism, for example in Belitung Island which has been designated as one of the new Bali.

In 2020, the theme of WTD is Tourism and Rural Development. Since Laskar Pelangi has become a "landmark" for the development of tourism in Bangka Belitung, this province has actually positioned its destination on nature-based tourism. Let us admit that position of our urban-based tourism is still below if we want to compete with other regions, even though urban heritage tourism in Bangka Belitung has the potential to develop. Bangka Belitung also hopes to accelerate the tourism economy by designated a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for tourism, which is trying to be "replicated" from Belitung Island to Bangka Island. However, spatial conflicts are still looming and there are issues of local community involvement and its impacts that must be carefully examined. Then how has Bangka Belitung been translating sustainability into its tourism development?

Non-Urban Destinations

At the beginning of the decade of 2010, the Provincial Government of the Kepulauan Bangka Belitung has started to prepare the “replacement” for Laskar Pelangi (the rainbow troops) by taking into account various destination cases arising from the popularity of filmography in the world, and by taking into account the competitive advantage of this region which is also the center of world tin history. The development of geo-tourism has been initiated more than a decade ago in Bangka Belitung, and even though the initial planning was actually first drawn up for Bangka Island, Belitung finally officially became a national geopark faster. This is actually inseparable from the strong desire of the local communities to change their economy by utilizing existing local potentials, supported by the local government through various aligned policies that are in favor of the community, as well as the economic options available - or remaining, in the region.

The nature-based tourism potential is closely related to life outside urban areas. Where else ones find green scenery, fresh air, wild landscapes, mountains, and forests. Although many cities are built near the coast, the beaches in Bangka Belitung that are not in urban areas are very attractive. In fact, the more difficult to access the beaches, the more beautiful and magnificent the scenery is. This is like confirming the words of Ade Perucha Hutagaol a.k.a. Trinity, a well-known national blogger in the Indonesian traveling community, saying that "the road to heaven is difficult" to describe the many destinations that must be reached by struggling, but the results are worth the effort.

Even though the beach is still the main selling point here, the local communities and tourism businesses, as well as the governments in Bangka Belitung are aware that they cannot just sell beach/marine tourism. Geologically, Bangka Belitung has characteristics that distinguish it from other areas in Indonesia, which makes Bangka Belitung a potential geopark. Local people are getting smarter and have also started to be educated by the demonstrative impacts of the tourism economy and the dignity felt by residents whose attractiveness has become famous. Mangrove forests, hills, ex-mining areas, ex-mining deserts, beekeeping, waterfalls, rivers, rice fields, and even purun fields have become attractions that are finally looked at and used by the community to make their area a destination.

Is Infrastructure the Main Requirement?

The lack of infrastructure is always considered to be the biggest obstacle when residents want to develop the attractiveness in place. Requests for support and the presence of the government in that area are usually closely related to the requests for infrastructure development supports. The government also very often translates the community's needs to develop tourism attractiveness in the region as the need for infrastructure availability. Indeed, infrastructure greatly supports the operation of tourist attractions. However, what is often overlooked is that there are very important aspects of sustainability that a tourism destination should have, from economic, socio-cultural, and environmental perspectives. What stakeholders often forget is that the destination does not only consist of an area of attraction because a destination also has people as the human resource that manage and use it and will greatly determine the sustainability of the destination.

The aspects of sustainability and the development of tourism destinations must be planned properly by stakeholders. Indeed, the presence of the government is always expected in all places. However, many have proven that destinations built and developed by the community independently actually have better resilience and sustainability. Usually, tourism villages that have actually developed ahead of the entry of infrastructure support from the government to the area have high resilience because they are not dependent on government assistance. Perhaps, what they expect from the government is actually the support to increase their competitiveness by building the capacity of the actors/communities on more specific matters, providing supporting policies that take sides and protect the community economically, socio-culturally, and environmentally, providing support for network development, and perhaps some supports to upgrade or improve the infrastructure they have built themselves.

Is Tourism a Panacea?

In the various aspects of tourism development (marketing, destinations, institutions, and industries), the government should be involved in the planning phase. However, if planning fails to recognize the importance of the “people” who are there and their creativity as the main capital to develop tourism, then tourism development planning is often only a guideline for the government and does not bind the commitment of the community who is the subject of the actual tourism development.

On the community side, there is also a notion that copy-paste and slight modifications are great strategies in creating a destination resulting in uniformity in the built tourist attractions and do not last long in competition because they do not capture a larger and thematic regional portrait caught and contained in government planning. Keeping your eyes wide open to local and global tourism developments is essential, but looking inwardly and critically becomes even more important to take wise measures when developing a destination.

Experts or expertise to develop tourism must not only be possessed by the community and related business actors but it is also required in the bureaucratic and political realms. The fact is that most bureaucrats or politicians consider themselves fully comprehend tourism without observing the whole tourism as a system and as an economy supported by various sectors and actors. The assumption that "If infrastructure A is built in area X, then tourism there will advance" is often fully believed by policymakers. Sometimes they overlooked that in area X the spatial arrangement of infrastructure A is not possible, and sometimes they fail to recall that there are maintenance costs that must be calculated in the future, while most importantly, they often forget that there must be human resources that utilize and maintain the destinations, especially when concerning environmental sustainability.

Tourism is mistakenly considered a panacea, potent medicine for all predicaments, unfortunately, everyone hopes that as if this panacea arises from a plant that does not need to be seeded, cared for, researched, and internalized more deeply before it is further processed and swallowed. Moreover, tourism is considered very powerful, so it is considered very capable of solving all its problems by itself. Like the earth that must be restored and cared for together, tourism cannot stand alone and will not survive without caring about the aspects of sustainability scientifically and responsibly. It is time for Bangka Belitung to interpret its strengths and needs carefully when developing tourism by actually carrying out integrated tourism development in the whole territorial development, not just making tourism jargon or false hopes, and impulsively encouraging development without planned, sound, and wise measures.

*The author is currently an associate translator in Bappeda of Kepulauan Bangka Belitung with previous experience in tourism marketing and destination divisions in Provincial Culture and Tourism Office for 11 years.
**Rusni Budiati, S.I.P., M.Sc., M.Eng - Penerjemah Ahli Madya Bappeda Provinsi Kepulauan Bangka Belitung
***Artikel ini telah diterbitkan oleh BabelReview pada 15 April 2021 dengan judul "Menginterpretasikan Keberlanjutan Pada Pariwisata Babel"
Rusni Budiati **
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