Many years ago a very experienced and erudite editor was working for me on a regional travel magazine based in Singapore. His job was to go to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka to review hotels and write destination stories. What a great job!
One day he came to me and said, “Alistair, I just can’t do this anymore”. “Really!” I reply, “this is one of the great jobs of the world! Free food, free spas, free accommodation, free air travel, free drinks!” “That may be so”, he replied, “but I can’t write about them anymore”. “Why not?” I asked somewhat surprised. “Because I’m totally bored, uninspired, unimpressed and fed up with what I’m writing about,” says he “almost all the new hotels in S.E. Asia are so similar that not only do I not know what hotel I am in, I often don’t know what country I am in!”
And so he quit, blaming the homogeneity of the hotel industry as his reason. And he was right. The great majority of hotel groups main offerings are very similar, distinguished only by the name on the door and the colour of the staff uniform! Of course economies of scale dictate so much of this repetition, with every room being the same design and furniture, with the pattern repeated across cities – and even regions. It really can be quite daunting, if your job is to visit ten hotels in a row and write about how different they all are!
So too with destinations. The whole point in a holiday is to discover new cultures, new environments, new architecture, new works of art, new experiences. Which is why destinations must, must, must, embrace their differences, codify them into unbreakable rules, create their own unique destination brand blueprint and stick to it!
Bali is beautiful and unique and must remain so otherwise people will go to “the other, cheaper, Bali” in another country. Bali is not malls and shop houses, that’s for cities like Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. Bali is not endless lines of foreign fast food outlets. That’s for, well nowhere if you ask me, but again should not be a feature of Bali. Bali is not massive concrete hotels, with steel and glass. It is carved stone, and statues, and plants, and fields and flowers and space and flowing water.
Dream on, you may say, but did you know that Bali has a building code that insists that all structures should be Balinese in character? Well it does and as you can see it is not very well enforced. But it must be, otherwise the uniqueness of Bali will soon be gone and its attractiveness as a destination consigned to the “tropical-city-holiday-camp file”. Rome thrives on its uniqueness and doesn’t compromise, nor does Paris or New York or most of Scotland. But Bali is doing so now and has to stop, or not just my editor, but the whole world’s editors and bloggers and TV journalists will say “I just can’t do it anymore. It’s all so similar to everywhere else!
Enjoy the uniqueness of Bali now, and help it remain so forever.
Alistair G. Speirs, OBE