Bali’s tourism is booming, so is the environmental pressure

The tranquility of strolling around in Bali is unmatched, even by the freshest of juices at a hot summer afternoon (it is good to remember these days with the winter coming!). But travelling has an impact on the environment. And it is not only about taking a plane to get to a destination, the pressure tourism has on the local resources, the change in the economic activity, positive and negative, may have much more impacts than we think.

It is a statement I read about the ratio of water consumption in residential area versus hotels that got me thinking of: how to quantify the impact of tourism on local environments? In this article, I try to provide a simplistic answer to this question from the point of view of a curious citizen and not from the perspective of an environmental expert.

Water consumption, water consumption … 5 times !!!

Speaking at German trade show ITB in Berlin Dr. Stroma Cole, director of Equality in Tourism highlighted that it is the sustainable management of water that will be the major vector of driving tourism in the coming years. She also mentioned that Bali will be facing a critical point at 2020 concerning the water supply and demand. This conclusion is based on the findings of several monitoring organisations, for example the Bali Hotel Association (BHA) and Howarth HTL where they report that  the assumed per capita daily use of fresh water is of 183 liters, whereas for a 2 stars hotel the consumption is of 1000 liters. Knowing that lots of hotels are 2+ stars in Bali, the water consumption ratio is likely to be more than 1 to 5. For statistics concerning the number of hotels and their ratings please refer to this document.

Now hold on a second, I have been to Bali a couple of times, and I don’t remember that I drank this much of additional water in comparison with my usual daily dose! That is correct, but it does not take into account the magnificent pools, giant flower pots and other fountains and gardens that nicely decorate most of the hotels ! My gut feeling would be then to agree with the statement that the popularity of Bali as vacation destination has a significant impact on the water reserves.

So starting from this point, I started to look for the available open and free data to see if this makes any sense at all. Keeping an open mind to avoid falling in the trap of finding what I am looking for !

Trying to locate the pressure

The first dataset I looked for was statistics on the number of travellers flying to Bali to see how these fluctuated over the past decade. I found an open dataset (here) coming from the Indonesian government that showed a continuous increase in the number of tourists climbing from 2 millions to approximately 11 million visiting tourists in 2014. Moreover the data showed the number of tourists who checked-in the different  attraction over the beautiful island.

The most visited region of Bali in 2014 was the south west region of Tabanan that accounts for about 40% of all tourists.

Most visited regions in Bali
From the study of the historical data, we can say that this region of Tabanan has been constantly the main engine of tourism in Bali. This region has been growing at a CAGR of 24% over the past 12 years. To the contrary the region of Jembrana at the west has been losing momentum over the same period with a decrease in the overall number of tourists.

The following map shows the relative weight of each region in the constant growth of tourists.

As you can see, the region that have seen a significant increase in the number of tourists is the region situated at the south and center of the island. The sandy beaches of Kuta, the temple of Tanah Lot are major attractions in Bali. One may think that given the small size of the island, tourists have the choice of staying in the north or the center for example and visit these areas on day tours. This would mean that the increase of residential areas in these regions can be reasonable to avoid putting major stress on the infrastructures through the creation of hotels for example. Trying to identify patterns of growth of residential areas is something that earth observation data by satellites does great thanks to the global coverage and the diversity of sensors.

Earth observation data to the rescue !

The European Commission’s Joint research center (JRC) has deployed significant effort to map built-up areas across the planet. The result of this effort are an open source, open tools, map layers that are available here. So I thought, perfect, let’s use this to see how the urban areas evolved over Bali over time. The results, shown in the following map, that show the evolution from 1975 to 2015, seem to be inline with the tourism influx shown in the previous map.  Yeah, one of the advantages of using satellite imagery is that we can go back in time to do spatial analysis.

How about population growth 

The million dollar question now is whether this increase in residential areas is only related to an increase in the number of tourists accommodation areas or whether they are related to normal increase in population. According to the official reports of the Indonesian government (here), the population in Bali has almost doubled in the period from 1971 to 2010, rising from 2.1 Million to 3.8 million persons (circa 1.1% growth rate over the last decade).

While this population growth may help explain the increase in population in the dense urban centers (the red points in the previous map), it does not explain the increase in the low density urban clusters (shown by the green areas on the map). Another indicator is the sheer increase in the number of hotels in Bali over the past decade. Indeed, according to the market analysis report issued by Colliers international (here), the number of hotels, budget and luxury hotels combined, has almost doubled over the period from 2005 to 2015. This seems to be inline with the continuous increase in the number of tourists coming to Bali.

Should we stop going to Bali ??! No way ..

Factually speaking, the earth observation data show that there is a construction pressure, the stats show there is a significant increase in tourist influx and that there might be correlations with the number of hotels as the number of hotels being built-up is in continuous increase. This gives food for thought, first on how available data might be used to indicate certain trends in pressure on available resources.

The objective of these reflexion is not to refrain you from going to your favourite vacation spot, but to think about the possible impact. Maybe one of the solutions would be to avoid touristy centers and stay in a non-traditional places, beside being sure to have unique experiences, you also avoid putting the pressure on resources on critical areas.

A concrete example would be for example to stay at the west or north of Bali where there is less pressure on water consumption rather than staying in the south. You will still be able to visit your favourite spots over a day trip and you will enjoy less crowd and more personalized experiences.

Now what ?

The Guidexplorer team will be happy to provide you with a customized study for your next vacation destination to help you pick up the right “environment friendly” hotel, and we are not talking about using bamboo sticks instead of forks but rather which hotel area you should choose to minimize the pressure on local resources. If you are interested, send us a message at

Bon voyage ! And do not hesitate to reach out with your comments !

(Disclaimer: Guidexplorer has absolutely no interest in guiding the travelers to specific parts of Bali)

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