This article was originally written and published in Indonesian on 13 December 2022.
Recently, the Yogyakarta Regional Government has been massively developing the tourism infrastructure of Yogyakarta. However, this development is not done fairly and transparently. It has negative impacts on the public, such as traffic congestion and gentrification. To justify the negative effects of this development, the Yogyakarta Regional Government echoed positive and persuasive narratives that were packed with Yogyakarta’s cultural nobility. In contrast, information on the negative impacts of development is rarely socialized. One of the cases of this phenomenon was the eviction of Malioboro street vendors, which was full of secrecy and embellished with narratives of cultural nobility.
Based on this issue, BALAIRUNG had the opportunity to interview Elanto Wijoyono. He is the director of the Combine Resource Institution, a non-governmental organization engaged in community-based information disclosure. In this interview, Elanto explained the lack of information about tourism development in Yogyakarta, which makes the public unprepared to face its negative impacts.
In your opinion, what does Yogyakarta’s tourism industry look like nowadays?
Tourism in Yogyakarta cannot be understood as solely the Yogyakarta Regional Government’s agenda. Two layers of Yogyakarta’s tourism infrastructure development agenda need to be understood. First, based on the agenda owners, there are tourism infrastructure development agendas owned by the central government and those owned by the regional government. Second, based on the scale, there are large-scale landmark projects and small-scale community-based tourism projects.
The central government’s tourism development agenda can be observed in areas included in the National Tourism Strategic Areas. They are usually large-scale and highly visible. Meanwhile, the regional government’s tourism development agenda can be observed through tourism development support programs at the village and community levels.
Speaking about the state of tourism in Yogyakarta, the real problem is the lack of transparency to the public. Until now, the public does not know which tourism development projects are part of the central government’s agenda and which are part of the regional government’s agenda. As a result, the public also does not know the relationship between one project and another. Yet, the public will be affected by all tourism development projects.
You said that the public does not receive enough information about tourism development in Yogyakarta, yet the public will feel the impacts of the development. What are the impacts of tourism development in Yogyakarta on the public so far?
Let me take an example of the massive construction of hotels and apartments in Yogyakarta over the past five years. After many hotels and apartments were built, those who live near those locations are disturbed by noise and air pollution. At the same time, those who do not live near the hotels and apartments are also affected by traffic jams. The availability of accommodations, such as hotels and apartments, increases the number of people that come and stay in Yogyakarta, which in turn causes traffic jams. Traffic jams lead to the emergence of illegal activities, such as illegal escort patrols.
These various impacts can be anticipated if the public is given transparency and clarity regarding the impacts of development from the beginning. But in reality, the impacts, risk management, and solutions to the impacts, arising from tourism development cannot be accessed by the public at all. There are also more specific impacts, such as land conversion indications or tax object values changes. Without information regarding participatory development, the public will have difficulty anticipating these impacts.
The secrecy of information at the district/city level makes it difficult for the public to anticipate the impacts of tourism development. How does this lack of transparency affect tourism development at smaller levels, such as tourism development in urban villages?
At the rural level, information secrecy has caused community-based tourism initiatives to be annexed by elite agendas. For example, the Nglanggeran Ancient Volcano tourism in Gunung Kidul was actually an initiative of the youth community in Nglanggeran about seven or eight years ago. As time passed, the Nglanggeran Ancient Volcano became increasingly popular. As a result, the regional government, both from Yogyakarta Province and Gunung Kidul Regency, intervened and brought their agendas to Nglanggeran. They brought offers for promotional scenarios, campaigns, and tour packages. These offers were usually designed by the regional government. Therefore, the communities in Nglanggeran could only follow those designs without being given sufficient space for dialogue.
The same pattern can be observed in the Philosophy Axis of the Yogyakarta area, especially in the Malioboro region. Before the regional government came with its project, there were many community-based tourism initiatives. However, after the regional government came up with a project aimed at proposing the Philosophy Axis as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, many of those community initiatives disappeared.
Besides information secrecy, are there any other issues that make it easy for community-based tourism initiatives to be annexed by elite tourism development agendas?
It has to be acknowledged that many community-based tourism initiatives do not yet have a solid organizational foundation. This problem is exacerbated by the strong relationship between tourism business actors and the regional government. Consequently, many regional government elites dominate Yogyakarta’s tourism industry associations.
These conditions put the community-based tourism activists, who are already vulnerable when facing the large-scale tourism industry, in a more precarious position. This vulnerability increases even more when tourism is faced with various sudden challenges. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic that has shaken the world for the past two years has affected tourism in Yogyakarta. Community-based tourism actors are certainly more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impact than the big-budget tourism industry.
In such conditions, community-based tourism actors inevitably have to seek government help. At the same time, they also have to be wary of the schemes that the government offers. They have to understand that the government is responsible for implementing fair schemes instead of taking control of community-based tourism actors. Unfortunately, I see more unfair schemes in Yogyakarta, for example, the tourism development in Malioboro.
You mentioned Malioboro as an example a few times. What does the tourism development in Malioboro look like?
For me, the tourism development in Malioboro reflects the reality of tourism development in Yogyakarta. Every problem is there, especially about secrecy. The street vendors are the main stakeholders in the relocation for the submission of the Philosophy Axis to UNESCO. However, they are being ignored, and their voices are not heard. In addition to that, the regional government has a plan to build the Jogja Planning Gallery at the Teras Malioboro 2. It will result in the relocation of the street vendors for the second time.
The Jogja Planning Gallery is the regional government’s effort to lay out the development plans for Yogyakarta, both currently and in the future. Its presence will bring a breath of fresh air to the transparency of tourism development in Yogyakarta. Ironically, the street vendors have been repeatedly evicted in the development process. If the regional government is not transparent in the building of the Jogja Planning Gallery, it raises concerns about the planning of even bigger development projects in Yogyakarta.
One of the supporting arguments for the massive tourism development in Yogyakarta is Yogyakarta’s economic reliance on tourism. Are there any alternative economic sectors besides tourism?
First, we must acknowledge that Yogyakarta’s highest income comes from hotel and restaurant taxes. However, we must also realize that the tourism sector’s economy is vulnerable. If there are unfavorable conditions that do not support its sustainability, the economy of the tourism sector can rapidly collapse. When Covid-19 hit in the past two years, the tourism sector was hindered. Not only the pandemic, other disasters and unexpected events can devastate the tourism sector. The Bali Bombing, for example, temporarily brought down Bali, which was known as a paradise for tourism.
When discussing Yogyakarta’s economy, I have always believed that the education sector can become an alternative. If the regional government is willing to improve, maintain, and manage its quality, the education sector in Yogyakarta can support Yogyakarta’s economy. In addition, developing the education sector also means strengthening the tourism sector, as the education sector can also attract potential tourists. For example, educational cities like Kyoto, Leiden, and Groningen have advanced education and tourism sectors.
Author : Renova Zidane Aurelio
Editor : Bangkit Adhi Wiguna
Illustrator : Dina Rahayu
Translator : Seravin Afra Secunda