Managing the Mentawais: Sustainable Tourism Management and the Surfing Tourism Industry in Mentawai

 Managing the Mentawais: An Examination of Sustainable Tourism Management and the Surfing Tourism Industry in the Mentawai Archipelago, Indonesia.

By Jess Ponting

University of Technology, Sydney
Faculty of Business
School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism Studies

Completed as full requirement for “Tourism’s Environments” and part of the requirement for the Master of Management (Tourism Management) degree.

Published February 2001

Acknowledgements *

Executive Summary *

Section I *

Section II *

1. Introduction *

2. Section I – Literature Review *

2.2 Sustainable Tourism Models and Development *

2.3 Sustainable Tourism Principles and Models *

2.31 The Environmental Dimension *

2.32 The Economic Dimension *

2.33 The Social Dimension *

2.4 The Role of Stakeholder Groups in Sustainable Tourism *2.41 Government *

2.42 The Industry *

2.43 The Voluntary Sector & Non Government Organisations *

2.44 The Host Community *

2.5 Brief Overview of Sustainable Management Techniques *2.51 Management Decision Making Frameworks *

2.52 From Carrying Capacity to Growth Management Planning *

2.53 From Limits of Acceptable Change to Tourism Optimisation Management Model *

2.6 Conclusion *

3. Section II – Sustainable Surfing Tourism Management and the Mentawai Archipelago *

3.1 Introduction *

3.11 The Mentawai Archipelago: Background information *3.2 Major Stakeholder Groups in Surfing Tourism Development in the Mentawai Archipelago *3.21 Local Population *

3.22 Government *

3.23 Mentawai Wisata Bahari *

3.24 Surfing Tourism Operators *

3.25 Non Government Organisations (NGOs) *

3.26 Tourists *

3.3 Management Options *3.31 Paul King: The Surf Travel Company *

3.32 Rick Cameron: CEO Great Breaks International *

3.33 Christie Carter: Wave Park Losmen *

3.34 Professor Ralph Buckley: CRC Tourism; Griffith University *

3.35 Dave Bamford: Tourism Resource Consultants *

3.36 Discussion of Management Techniques *

4. Conclusion *

5. References *

7. Appendices *

Appendix 1. Extracts from interview with Paul King, owner/manager the Surf Travel Company *

Appendix 2. Extracts from personal communication from Rick Cameron, CEO of Great Breaks International *

Appendix 3. Extracts from personal communication from Christie Carter, owner/manager Wave Park Losmen *

List of Tables.

Table 1. Continuum of Industry Self Regulation Tools……………………………..22

Table 2. Surfing Tourism Operators in the Mentawai Archipelago…………………36

Table 3. Ways in Which Tourists Perceive the Difference of Objects of the Tourist Gaze…………………………………………………………………………………..39

Table 4. Key Management Issues and Respondent Attitudes……………..…………46

List of Figures

Figure 1. The Five Components of the Environmental Dimension of Sustainable Tourism………………………………………………………………………………17

Figure 2. Ladder of Community Influence…………………………..………………23

Figure 3. Location of the Mentawai Archipelago……………………………………31

The Author would like to thank the following surfing tourism operators for their time and patience in participating in the research for this report.

Rick Cameron: Chief Executive Officer of Great Breaks International

Paul King: Owner/manager of the Surf Travel Company

Christie Carter: Manager of Wave Park Losmen

Ian Lyon: Manager of Atoll Adventures

Thanks also to the following individuals for their generous assistance

Glenn Reeves: Modern Asian Studies, Griffith University

Dave Bamford : Tourism Resource Consultants

Professor Ralph Buckley: International Centre for Ecotourism Research, Griffith University

Dave Jenkins : Surf Aid International

Laurens Bakker M.A in Cultural Anthropology, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Executive Summary

Section I

The recent discovery of world-class surf in the Mentawai archipelago, Indonesia has seen the rapid development of a foreign controlled surfing tourism industry in the region. This report, presented in two sections, aims to a) review existing literature concerning sustainable tourism management, then, b) review the developing surfing tourism industry in the Mentawai archipelago using this framework as a basis for discussing and presenting information.

Section I. Until recently conventional (mass) models of tourism have been advocated by development agencies and tourism industry bodies as a low impact, high return use of a developing nation’s natural resources. Studies have shown, however control by foreign interests in these cases leads to high levels of revenue leakage from the destination region back to the foreign financiers. Host populations are often impacted upon socially by having to share their natural resources and living space with tourists. Poorly planned and regulated tourism development can also impact substantially upon the local environment. For these reasons conventional forms of mass tourism have been described by some academics as being neo-colonial.

Sustainable tourism has developed in response to the failure of more conventional forms of tourism to meet the expectations of stakeholders and its tendency to privatise the benefits of tourism whilst the negative impacts are inflicted upon the wider community. Recent moves away from the modernisation development paradigm have allowed tourism development to be assessed within the framework of the environmental and cultural lives of host communities rather than in purely economic terms.

Whilst it is acknowledged that all the aspects of sustainable development are intrinsically interlinked, for the purpose of this study, sustainable tourism development is separated in to three dimensions: environmental, economic and social. The environmental dimension may be considered as being comprised of five elements: wildlife, natural resources, and the built, farmed and natural environment. The economic dimension is important in the development of sustainable tourism development in that poorly designed tourism with insufficient or inappropriate links to local economies may have far reaching economic and social impacts upon host communities. Social impacts are difficult to isolate from other modernising influences in many developing countries but may include the demonstration effect and the occurrence of social duality within host communities. A major component of sustainable tourism design is the empowerment of all stakeholders, including local host communities.

The major stakeholder groups usually involved in sustainable tourism are host governments, the tourism industry, the voluntary and NGO sector, and the host community. Destination region governments are well placed to influence the development of tourism through legislation, however a lack of funding and political will often limits the government’s role in developing countries. The tourism industry has a range of self-regulation options available to it for ensuring the sustainable development of tourist destination regions. These form something of a continuum of increasing formality from codes of practice to certification, tourism systems tend to move along this continuum as they mature.

The voluntary and NGO sector can play an important role in lobbying for the implementation of best practice sustainable development methodology, as well as potentially playing an important role in management support and capacity building amongst local populations. Host communities can be involved in tourism on a number of levels. Whilst host community participation is a keystone principle of sustainable tourism, local communities, particularly indigenies, are often marginalised from the planning, decision-making and management roles of developing a tourist destination.

Most literature on the subject suggests that the success of sustainable tourism strategies depends upon adequate monitoring systems and measurable performance indicators, and further, that the development and implementation of a strategy should involve the following generic steps.

  1. Develop tourism goals and objectives that mesh with the broader comprehensive plan for the region and/or destination.
  2. Establish a set of performance indicators reflecting the expected objectives of tourism development.
  3. Implement management strategies that direct tourism toward the achievement of the stated goals and objectives.
  4. Monitor the performance of tourism development with respect to these indicators.
  5. Evaluate the effectiveness of the management strategies in influencing the performance of tourism with respect to these indicators.
  6. Develop refined and/or new tactics for managing tourism based on the effectiveness of these techniques.

Various tools and decision-making frameworks are available to sustainable tourism planners and managers. Carrying capacity attempts to quantify upper limits of tourist numbers based on the biological derivation of the environment’s capacity to support them without impacting upon the ability of the environment to sustain such numbers in the future. Whilst perhaps a useful concept, carrying capacity has proven difficult to implement. Growth Management Planning is an extension of the carrying capacity concept, though the establishment of a ‘magic number’ of tourist numbers is abandoned in favour of management which is geared towards reaching performance goals based on notions of sustainability, and responsive to priority changes and information fed back to management through the use of performance indicators and associated monitoring systems.

Leisure based literature has contributed to the array of decision making frameworks through, initially, the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) which attempts calculate appropriate levels of use of an area based on social and managerial variables as well as local ecology. Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) represent an extension of the ROS framework and specifically inclGude resource managers and stakeholders in the development and monitoring of performance standards. LAC has also been further developed into the Tourism Optimisation Management Model, which includes a political dimension and tends to focus on a destination regions optimal sustainable performance rather than maximum thresholds.

Section II

The Mentawai archipelago lies of the coast of West Sumatra and is administered as a newly formed regency, and as such has its own representative (Bupati), under the umbrella of the West Sumatran provincial government. The archipelago is internationally considered to have high conservation value based on its high levels of endemic fauna and flora and the unique living culture of its indigenous population.

The population of the Mentawai archipelago is predominantly indigenous to the islands though it is the Minangkabau people from Sumatra who control local politics and economy. The Indonesian national government’s push for national unity has, over the years, has seen deliberate attempts to undermine the integrity of traditional Mentawaian culture in favour of a more ‘modern’ way of life. The Minangkabau harbour a certain amount of disrespect for the Mentawaians and their lifestyle and rarely interact with them socially. Mentawaians have been observed to feel apathetic towards tourism development, as they perceive it as something over which they have little control and which brings little economic benefit to them.

The Indonesian government is interested in pursuing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago, the provincial government already having been involved in a failed joint venture to manage tourism in the islands. Under new autonomy laws affecting the Mentawais the Bupati has instituted a management plan, the Zone Agreement Permit (ZAP). Under the ZAP operators can apply for management rights of particular zones within the archipelago in return for collecting a levy from tourists within that zone.

Mentawai Wisata Bahari (MWB) is an Indonesian joint venture between the West Sumatran provincial government and local Minangkabau partners which was formed in response to provincial level policy decision in 1998 to develop Siberut as a tourist destination. MWB has a working partnership with Australian tourism operator Great Breaks International (GBI) and has been active with GBI in pursuing management rights for surfing tourism in the archipelago. Most recently MWB with GBI have claimed management rights over three zones in the archipelago.

Just over 30 live-aboard charter boats were working in the Mentawais over the last season (April-November). Tourism operators in the area are fiercely competitive; a great deal of animosity has built up between some rival operators. However, all operators claim to be dedicated to ensuring the sustainability of the surfing tourism industry in the archipelago, disagreements arise over what form management of the industry should take.

Non Government Organisation World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has been involved in promoting the conservation value of Siberut in the early 1980s and participated in a process that led to the declaration of Siberut A UNESCO Man and Biosphere reserve. More recently a New Zealand based NGO, Surf Aid International has taken on the Mentawai archipelago as its maiden project in raising the well-being of local communities through the running of medical clinic and training of local staff.

Surfing tourists visiting the Mentawais though the surfing tourism industry may be seen as trying to experience the images of surfing perfection produced by the wider surfing industry. Of major concern to surfing tourists are crowding, concerns for health, and the quality of the natural environment.

Tourism operators, professional and academics provide a range of ideas for the sustainable management of the surfing tourism industry in the Mentawais. The major points of contention come from disagreements over the role of private operators in managing tourism in the archipelago, though all operators agree that management of some sort is necessary.

The Surf Travel Company’s Paul King advocated the introduction of a licensing system for charter boats based on guidelines developed by a charter operators association in conjunction with local stakeholders. The licensing system would involve a standard transparent licensing fees and process and would incorporate minimum safety standards of licensed boats.

Great Breaks International’s CEO, Rick Cameron advocated a wider plan of management based on the delegation of environmental protection to private industry, a surfing and environmental management plan, a fair tax on surfers, land based accommodation, and planning for the inevitable introduction of non-surfing tourism.

Wave Park Losmen’s Christie Carter is in favour of a surfing tourism industry controlled and managed by Mentawaians. He feels that capacity capping is unrealistic, but that control of the number of charter boats to a level of around 30 boats meeting minimum safety standards is necessary. Carter suggested the auctioning of these licenses by the Indonesian government including a certain number of licenses reserved for locally owned operations.

Tourism academic Ralph Buckley suggested the establishment of the Mentawai archipelago’s surf recreational capacity and the establishment of a management plan to enforce a capacity cap. Buckley also advocated the building of up-market land based resorts through the archipelago, which could then be used as the base for expanding into other forms of tourism. This is deemed necessary to provide returns to the local economy adequate to ensure the priority of sustainable tourism development over more destructive forms of development.

Tourism professional Dave Bamford stressed the potential for confusion to arise amongst local communities and government agencies as to exactly what is involved in surfing tourism, and why regulation of it may be necessary. Bamford observed that in many instances it has taken 10-15 years for local populations to catch up to foreign tourism operations and become a force in their own right. In order to aid this process it is suggested that government should demand the involvement of local populations. It was also suggested that cost based competition between operators may compromise the sustainability of operations.

Though there is animosity between tourism operators and some major differences in approach to the sustainable management of surfing tourism in the archipelago, these differences do not appear irreconcilable, indeed there is much common ground. The agreement of operators on the need for safety standards, limiting the number of charter boats to around 30 vessels, the establishment of greater links with the local economy, and support of the work of Surf Aid International should serve as a starting point for cooperation between operators to sustainable manage surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago.

1. Introduction

The conventional model of tourism development in developing countries, mass tourism, has in recent times been criticized for the large impacts it has visited upon local environments, and the high level of leakage of revenue to, generally, foreign owners and interests. In response to these concerns, and in the wake of the 1987 Brundtland Report, alternative, sustainable models of tourism have been developed with the intention of minimising the negative impacts of tourism upon host communities’ environments, and maximising and equitably distributing the positive impacts of tourism.

The recent discovery of world-class surf in the Mentawai archipelago, Indonesia, and subsequent exposure of images of the region in international surf media has pushed the archipelago to the brink of an explosion of surfing tourism development. Foreign tourism operators in the area are, however, aware of the potential for negative impacts upon the local environment, culture, social fabric, and economy (and their own business) if tourism is allowed to develop unchecked. As such attempts are being made from within the surfing tourism industry, as well as from local government, to manage surfing tourism development sustainably.

This report is presented in two sections. This first section takes the form of a literature review examining

a) recent shifts in thinking concerning development theory and the forces driving this change, and

b) the development of the sustainable tourism paradigm and associated principles, management tools, and frameworks.

The evolution of development paradigms from modernisation theory to models of sustainable development are discussed and linked to evolving models of tourism development.

The second section of the report presents information specific to the development of surfing tourism in the Mentawais within the framework established in the preceding section. Due to a lack of published information regarding the surfing tourism industry much of the information presented is the product of primary research. This qualitative research variously took the form of in-depth interviews both personal and telephone, and extensive use of electronic mail to develop on-going dialogue with the resource people who participated in the study. The ‘position’ of each of the major stakeholder groups is examined in light of the information gathered in the previously described manner, and the range of management strategies suggested by five stakeholders from within and outside the surfing tourism industry is discussed.

2. Section I – Literature Review

2.1 The Evolving Development Paradigm

The prevailing tourism development paradigm for developing countries has largely been one of mass, uncontrolled tourism in the pursuit of substantial economic returns for foreign investors and host economies. Many writers now believe that mass tourism has been incorrectly advocated as a viable means for generating substantial foreign exchange for developing economies (Marfurt, 1999; Mahapatra, 1998; Butler, 1991). Brohman (1996:p51, 53) questions the effectiveness of mass tourism as a development tool as conventional models often lead to economic dependency upon an industry dominated by foreign interests, socio-economic and spatial polarization of host communities, environmental destruction, cultural alienation and the loss of social control and identity (Brohman 1996:p51, 53; Mahapatra, 1998). Britton (1980:p149) argues that monopolistic controls over ownership and organisational structure by foreign owners have rendered mass-tourism in developing countries “a neo-colonial extension of economic forms of underdevelopment” reflecting historical inequalities between developed and developing nations (Brohman , 1996).

In purely economic terms the mass tourism paradigm creates high levels of leakage of the economic benefits of tourism away from host communities and economies. Vertically integrated transnational firms and conglomerates generally control the three most lucrative components of tourism in developing countries: securing customers; transportation; food and accommodation (Brohman, 1996:p 55). On this basis Rodenburg (1980), and Weaver (1998) challenge the apparent advantages offered by the larger revenues of concentrated, foreign owned mass tourism compared to smaller scale, locally owned, alternative forms of tourism.

In assessing tourism as a development tool in developing countries Harrison (1992) equates the mass tourism model with the process of modernisation and describes two paradigms for considering such development in less developed countries: modernisation theory (MT) and underdevelopment theory (UDT). Modernisation theory is aligned with neo-classical economics in that it is concerned with the westernisation of the less developed country’s internal structures, economy, and social institutions and structures based on market forces and maximisation of self-interest. ‘Change agents’ (for example tourism entrepreneurs) play a pivotal role in introducing modern values, often in the face of resistant or even hostile tradition (Harrison, 1992).

Alternatively, UDT considers development and underdevelopment to be linked elements of the same process, developed regions transferring value from less developed regions to themselves. Underdevelopment theory advocates a move away from capitalist notions of development as an important first step in achieving ‘real’ development. Both paradigms are intrinsically Eurocentric and essentially “ignore the wants and ambitions of those about to be developed” (Harrison, 1992:p 9). Mahapatra (1998:p 93) goes further in suggesting that the move away from modernisation paradigms of tourism development in developing countries is part of a larger modulation in the ‘development’ paradigm to encompass “the sum factors that make mankind happy and contented”. This new conception of development allows the process of tourism development to be assessed in the framework of the environmental and cultural dimension of life and society, rather than in purely economic terms.

The process of paradigm evolution from modernisation and mass tourism to models which advocate community empowerment and sustainable development can be explained by Wearing’s (1986) linking of the writings of Passmore (1975) and Harris (1971) – who claim that a philosophy of nature seeking to adequately address ecological issues must facilitate expansive thought by the inclusion of case studies – with Kuhn’s (1962) ideas on non-incremental change. That is, rather than change occurring within existing frameworks, crisis within specific situations and the search for solutions can facilitate paradigm changes. Wearing illustrates the point by quoting Kuhn (1962:p90): “confronted with anomaly or with crisis, scientists take a different attitude toward existing paradigms, and the nature of their research changes accordingly.” Thus in the tourism development context, the crisis driving paradigm evolution can be interpreted as the failure of the existing tourism development paradigm (mass tourism) to meet the expectations of stakeholders in terms of the equitable distribution of benefits, and the unacceptably high costs being brought to bear upon host communities and their environment.

In something of a parallel the use of agriculture as a development tool, unsatisfactory results from the application of conventional rural development methodology, one of imposition from above of predetermined development models, fuelled the evolution of sustainable, participatory methods (Wearing et. al., 2000). It is from the realm of agricultural development and through work published in papers such as the International Institute for Environment and Development ‘s (1994) Rapid Rural Appraisal Notes that participatory methodology has developed and come to be considered as best practice in the planning and management of sustainable development projects in less developed countries.

2.2 Sustainable Tourism Models and Development

Sustainable development is a term that was popularised by the 1987 report of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development, The Brundtland Report, Our Common Future. The definition of sustainability proposed in the Brundtland Report and that adopted by this paper refers to the responsibility of the present generations to meet their needs in a manner which ensures that the ability of future generations to meet their needs is not compromised by irreversible resource depletion (Stabler and Goodall, 1996; World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). Sustainable development forms the basis for the concept of sustainable tourism (Swarbrooke, 1999; Weaver, 1998) Broadly speaking, then, sustainable tourism is tourism that aims to provide equitably distributed benefits (meeting the needs of current generations) whilst minimising the negative environmental and cultural impacts generally associated with tourism development: i.e. to combine development and conservation (Wild, 1994: p12).

Clarke (1997) traces the development of the sustainable tourism paradigm over time through four stages, and appears most concerned with the notion of scale, and the inclusion of mass tourism models and management practices in the sustainable tourism equation. Over time, Clarke suggests that the sustainable tourism paradigm has been reoriented since mass tourism and sustainable tourism were perceived as polar opposites based on scale (small = good; large = bad). Clarke contends that at this time sustainable tourism was considered to be the possession of small-scale tourism. The second stage, again based on scale, is described as a continuum between the extremes of mass tourism and sustainable tourism. According to Clarke, this was essentially a recognition that sustainable tourism’s use of mass tourism infrastructure, transport and reservations systems has often resulted in the development of tourism systems which, in the absence of careful management, can facilitate a slide down what was considered to be the slippery inclined continuum of sustainable tourism towards mass tourism.

Clarke (1997) suggests the third stage in the reorientation of the sustainable tourism paradigm, ‘movement’, developed in response to attempts to operationalise principles of sustainability in the wider tourism industry. No longer based solely on scale, sustainable tourism became a goal for all forms of tourism, but was largely interpreted as being concerned almost exclusively with impacts upon the natural physical environment. Finally, Clarke describes a convergence in mass and sustainable tourism through which small scale operators are able to apply the allegedly advanced environmental standards of their larger mass tourism cousins, whilst small scale tourism offers understanding of social aspects of sustainable tourism and the diversity at the local level between destination regions and the implications of this for management.

Swarbrooke (1999:p40) takes issue with the assumptions that sustainable tourism has been based on, suggesting that at the most fundamental level “sustainable tourism is, perhaps, an impossible dream, and the best we can hope for is to develop more sustainable forms of tourism.” Also called into question is the objectivity of much of the sustainable tourism debate. Swarbrooke sees the polarisation of tourism forms into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as being value laden, unnecessarily divisive and unhelpful. Buckley (1999) highlighted difficulties in defining sustainable tourism given problems associated with defining ‘sustainable’, suggesting alternatively that it may be a more fruitful exercise to define what types of activity are unsustainable (Buckley, 1999, 1991). A similar line is taken by Clarke (1997: p229) in “accepting that the concept of sustainable tourism is still evolving, the absence of a precise goal definition is less important than a general movement in the correct direction”. Identifying the correct direction does, however, require some level of definition. Section 2.3 outlines principles of sustainable tourism which allow ‘the correct direction’ to be identified.

2.3 Sustainable Tourism Principles and Models

Sustainable tourism principles divorced from scale as a defining characteristic are presented in Bramwell et. al. (1996). These are summarised below.

  • Policy, planning and management are essential responses to minimise negative impacts of tourism.
  • Recognition of limits to growth.
  • Long-term vision required.
  • Sustainable tourism has more than just environmental implications. Also economic, social, cultural, political and managerial components.
  • Concern for equity and fairness is a priority.
  • Empowerment of all stakeholders in decision-making, and an awareness of sustainable development issues.
  • An understanding of market economies, business culture and management, non-government organisations, and the values and attitudes of local communities will aid success.
  • Conflicting resource use interests may require trade offs and compromise.
  • Cost/benefit analysis must include costs and benefits to all stakeholders.

Swarbrooke (1999:p46) suggests that there are three equally important dimensions to sustainable tourism. Namely

    1. the environment, both natural and built;
    2. the economic life of communities and companies;
    3. social aspects of tourism, in terms of its impacts on host cultures and tourists, and the way in which those employed in tourism are treated.

The components of these three dimensions are briefly discussed below.

2.31 The Environmental Dimension

Swarbrooke (1999) suggests five components of the environmental dimensions which may be impacted upon by tourism and as such should be factored into any sustainable tourism development. These are shown in Figure 1. below.

Figure 1. The Five Components of the Environmental Dimension of Sustainable Tourism

The Farmed Environment
Agricultural landscapes
Man-made forests
Fish farms
The Natural Environment
Mountainous areas
Rivers and Lakes
Natural woodland
The Built Environment
Individual buildings/structures
Villages and townscapes
Transport infrastructure
Dams and reservoirs
Land-based mammals
& reptiles
Fish and marine mammals
Natural resources

Each of these compenents collectively form what we label “The Environment”.

*Source Swarbrooke (1999:p50)

2.32 The Economic Dimension

In economic terms, poorly designed (unsustainable) tourism development in developing countries can result in a combination of the destruction of linkages with the domestic economy; failure to create adequate levels of local employment and income; worsening of balance of payments and foreign indebtedness; transfer of inappropriate (often capital intensive) technology; loss of local skills and failure to provide skilled jobs for local population; labour exploitation; inequitable distribution of the costs and benefits of tourism (Brohman, 1996). Brohman (1996) developed a set of criteria for assessing the likelihood of outward–oriented growth positively impacting upon overall development. These criteria may be appropriately applied in the assessment of a tourism development’s likelihood of contributing positively to host economies.

  • The extent of linkages to the domestic economy.
  • The creation of employment.
  • Effect on external accounts and balance of payments.
  • Fostering of genuine appropriate technology transfer
  • Generation of jobs for skilled labour as well as local managers, technicians and highly trained personnel.
  • Favourable wages and working conditions.
  • Equitable social, sectoral, and regional distribution of costs and benefits of growth.

* Source Brohman, 1996

2.33 The Social Dimension

One of the key principles of sustainable tourism development is the empowerment of all stakeholders in the decision making process, and the inclusion of all stakeholders in the assessment of costs and benefits of proposed developments (Bramwell et. al. 1996). Butler (1991) observes that benefits from tourism are rarely equitably distributed, tending to be concentrated amongst those actively involved in the tourism industry at the expense of those who generally bear the costs of tourism. Wearing and Neil (1999p.76) contend that host communities are often neglected in the planning and management of tourism development leading to ‘inadequate levels of participation perceived by these communities in the management of what they regard as their traditional domains’. Wearing, Largamente and Coronado (2000) explain that host communities can participate in tourism in a number of ways, and in the case of external agents imposing tourism upon communities, participation often takes on the form of organised opposition to the development rather than cooperation. Cooperative participation is widely touted as a means of gaining community support for tourism projects, whilst the potential for indigenous resource management practices to inform, and contribute to more successful projects is, in the view of Wearinget. al. (2000), neglected.

“the emphasis in much of the literature on sustainable development and participation has not been on people’s initiatives as keys to finding solutions

 for environmental problems; rather it has been on people’slack

 of participation as an obstacle

 to the solution (by outsiders) of environmental problems.”(Wearing et. al., 2000:p3)

Most writers on the subject seem to agree that the assessment of socio-cultural impacts of tourism on a host community in a developing nation is an extremely complex task given the difficulty in isolating the effects of tourism from other modernising influences (Shaw & Williams, 1999; Mathieson & Wall, 1982). A range of social impacts are commonly associated with tourism development and steps can be taken to minimise their impact in a sustainable tourism system. For example, the ‘demonstration effect’, the adoption of tourist behaviour and consumption patterns by local residents, particularly young people (Shaw & Williams, 1999; Rivers, 1973), can led to a greater reliance upon imported goods, effectively a drain on the local economy (Clevendon, 1979). The introduction of foreign values can lead to other social tensions including the development of a social duality between those embracing new values (generally the young and those most involved in the tourism industry) and those wishing to retain the pre-existing way of life. Other writers include moral changes amongst tourisms social impacts including associated rises in crime, gambling, prostitution and the spread of AIDS (Shaw & Williams, 1999:p 107-108).

2.4 The Role of Stakeholder Groups in Sustainable Tourism

This section outlines the roles that the major stakeholders, government. Industry, host communities, NGOs can play in the development of sustainable tourism.

2.41 Government

Destination region governments have a major role to play in developing sustainable tourism. Wearing and Neil (1999p. 25) point out that government has powerful tools at its disposal to influence tourism development. Namely

  • legislation,
  • regulation (+ revenue collection and distribution),
  • control,
  • coordination of policies and programs,
  • infrastructure and incentives, and
  • planning and promotion between national and local level sustainable tourism ventures.

Through the use of legislation government has the ability to enforce consistent standards of operations of foreign and domestic tourism operators. Tourism is an inherently political subject and as such will be subject to lobbying to influence the political processes involved. Swarbrooke identifies potential obstacles for the effective use of government powers in the sustainable tourism equation. These are summarised below.

  • Lack of political will to pursue sustainable tourism.
  • Public sector planning and regulation becoming less fashionable than privatisation.
  • Lack of resources, economic and human
  • Short-term focus of politicians undermines long-term goals of sustainable tourism.
  • Pubic sector systems often slow and cumbersome.
  • Central and local government corruption can limit governments’ potential role in developing sustainable tourism.

*Source Swarbrooke (1999p. 97)2.42 The Industry

“Many commentators see the tourism industry as the villain in the sustainable tourism melodrama. Tourism enterprises are often portrayed, rightly or wrongly, as being narrowly concerned solely with their profits and with short-term perspectives. However, if the industry is a major cause of the negative impacts of tourism, it is obvious that the industry must also play a major role in any attempt to create more sustainable forms of tourism.” (Swarbrooke, 1999:p104)In the absence of public sector support, which is often the case in developing countries, industry led sustainable tourism development relies upon industry self regulation. Attempts at self-regulation of the sustainability of other industries, for example mining and agriculture, have not generally been successful. Self-regulation by the tourism industry remains something of an unknown quantity (Wearing & Neil, 1999; Birtles and Sofield, 1996).

Tools commonly used in implementing industry self-regulation have been placed in a continuum by Manidis Roberts (1994) see Table 1 on the following page.

2.43 The Voluntary Sector & Non Government Organisations

The interactions of the volunteer sector, and NGOs with tourism are generally in the form of pressure groups. Pressure groups can help to move tourism towards sustainability particularly in cases where they represent the voice of politically disenfranchised local populations (Swarbrooke, 1999). NGO’s have formed partnerships with destination regions governments in administering protected areas (Wearing & Neil, 1999), and have also been involved in the training of members of host communities, introducing appropriate technology transfer, and providing management support such that host communities are better able to participate in tourism developments.

Table 1. Continuum of Industry Self Regulation Tools

Codes of Practice Compliance Accreditation Quality System Certification
  • General Guide to Behaviour
  • Informal
  • Formal
  • Formal
  • Formal
  • No participation requirement
  • Complying with codes
  • Voluntary
  • Voluntary
  • Compulsory
  • No enforcement
  • Voluntary participation
  • Administered by industry
  • Externally Driven
  • Externally approved standard
  • Little Promotion
  • Can require signing agreement
  • Involves standards
  • Conformity with best practice
  • May be regulatory
  • Enforcement rare
  • May involve audits of organisations
  • Involves auditing and benchmarking
  • Involves audit
  • Entire organisation participates
  • Withdrawal for non-compliance
* Source Wearing & Neil (1999); Manidis Roberts (1994)
  • Involves penalties


Indication of Increasing Maturity of Tourism System

2.44 The Host Community

Host communities are rarely homogenous in their attitude towards tourism development and are often factionalised into a variety of interest groups. For example those involved with tourism development and those not involved but whose normal activities will be impacted upon by tourism development (Swarbrooke, 1999). Swarbrooke (1999p.126) has developed a ‘ladder of community influence’ to describe the various levels at which communities can become involved in tourism. See Figure 2. below.

Figure 2. Ladder of Community Influence

Communities have total control of strategic policy and tactical decisions in relation to tourism in the area
Communities have a veto on all tourism policies and decisions that are in the hands of public sector bodies
Communities set the priorities and parameters for public sector policy and/or decisions
Communities are permitted to select a policy or strategy from a small number of options all of which have been generated by public sector policy-makers
Community views are used to help justify decisions taken by public sector bodies
The community is consulted but its views do not significantly influence public sector policy

Swarbrooke’s (1999) ladder does however appear to assume that tourism development is subject to specific public sector policy, legislation, and control. In the often remote destinations in developing countries favoured by surfing tourists, the public sector has little or no influence over the development of surfing tourism. In some situations where rapid tourism development has taken place in the absence of codes of practice and public sector controls, consultation with local communities (particularly disenfranchised indigenous minorities) has been seen as an optional, innovative best practice initiative rather than an essential part of the planning and management process. As discussed in section 2.3 of this report, empowerment of all stakeholders in planning and management is considered a key principle of sustainable tourism.

2.5 Brief Overview of Sustainable Management Techniques

Swarbrooke (1999) contends that the implementation of a sustainable tourism strategy depends upon two key issues.

  1. Monitoring systems
  2. Measurable performance indicators

This is an approach advocated by many writers on the topic including Williams and Gill (1999) who have suggested that a systems approach to incorporating desired destination community conditions, a key principle of sustainable tourism, into practical growth management of sustainable tourism involves:

  • developing tourism goals and objectives that mesh with the broader comprehensive plan for the region and/or destination;
  • establishing a set of performance indicators reflecting the expected objectives of tourism development;
  • implementing management strategies that direct tourism toward the achievement of the stated goals and objectives;
  • monitoring the performance of tourism development with respect to these indicators;
  • evaluating the effectiveness of the management strategies in influencing the performance of tourism with respect to these indicators;
  • developing refined and/or new tactics for managing tourism based on the effectiveness of these techniques.

*Source Williams & Gill, 1999

In order to reach the implementation stage of sustainable tourism management, objectives, strategies and indicators need to be established. A number of tools and frameworks designed to assist in developing appropriate objectives, strategies and indicators have been developed. Sections 2.51 – 2.53, below, outline the development of several such management tools.

2.51 Management Decision Making Frameworks

Much of the literature pertaining to sustainable tourism management frameworks is based upon the notion of limiting tourism numbers, controlling the type of tourists targeted and the style of tourism developed in an effort to reduce negative impacts. As Cohen (1978) observed, the level, extent and concentration of recreation activities, the ‘intensity’ in an area determines the degree to which the activity impacts upon its environments. Farrell and Runyan (1991) found that in some forms of tourism, increasing numbers of tourists can impact negatively upon the quality of the tourist experience.

“Experiential degradation can also occur as a result of increased human recreational activity, even when no substantial physical alterations occur. Such perceptual changes occur when a wilderness lake becomes more accessible to users and no longer offers the same experience of distance and separation from human habitation. For the user, the actual change may be as devastating as actual physical degradation.”(Farrell & Runyan, 1991p31).

As such a variety of methods have been developed to assist in the process of deciding upon appropriate levels of tourism in particular destinations.

2.52 From Carrying Capacity to Growth Management Planning

The development of the concept of Carrying Capacity was based upon the assumption that measurable environmental factors limit the population size a given area can sustain without deleterious impacts upon the environment, and eventually the area’s ability to support that population (Wearing & Neil, 1999; Butler, 1997; Stankey, 1991). From calculations based on biological study it was believed that the capacity of an area’s natural resources could be quantified, and access to resources appropriately restricted. Methieson & Wall (1982p.21) define carrying capacity as ‘the maximum number of people who can use a site without an unacceptable alteration in the physical environment, and without an unacceptable decline in the quality of the experienced gained by visitors’, a view supported by Hovinen (1982). Butler (1980), alternatively saw carrying capacity as being largely market driven and referring to the capability of a destination to provide quality tourist experiences, indicators of capacity threshold breaches taking the form of changes in market demand.

Wearing & Neil (1999p.48) suggest the following three main elements of carrying capacity as it relates to tourism.

  1. Biophysical (ecological) – relating to the natural environment
  2. Socio-cultural – relating to the impacts upon host populations
  3. Facility – relating to the tourist experience

As such, social issues, management techniques, environmental factors, and tourist expectation, (all of which are subject to change over time) influence the calculation of carrying capacity. Given these conditions Wearing and Neil (1999p.48) contend that ‘it is not possible to come up with a number beyond which unacceptable impacts occur’. Williams and Gill (1999) concur in finding that there is little evidence to suggest that simple changes in carrying capacity standards precipitate predictable changes in tourism’s impacts. Swarbrooke (1999pp.261-262) presents the following six types of carrying capacity. Type labels are sufficiently self-explanatory for the purpose of this literature review.

  1. Physical Capacity (physical limits of accommodation)
  2. Environmental Capacity
  3. Economic Capacity
  4. Socio-cultural Capacity
  5. Infrastructure Capacity
  6. Perceptual Capacity (demand oriented, refers to quality of tourist experience)

Swarbrooke (1999) concludes that while carrying capacity is a useful concept, it is extremely problematic to operationalise.

Williams and Gill (1999) take the concept of carrying capacity a step further in the development of Growth Management Planning which links carrying capacity to ‘desired conditions’ which best reflect the management goals of an area. Management goals are a function of the needs of community stakeholders, and the desired conditions derived from these goals forms the basis of indicators subsequently used to monitor the progress of the management plan. This approach differs from carrying capacity methodology in the following ways;

  • identification of an upper threshold of tourist numbers is not required;
  • tourism growth and development is related to its effect on destination goals and objectives;
  • indicators are employed to trigger the implementation of, or adjustment to management strategies;
  • destination goal and objective priorities are reviewed and modified as circumstances change.

2.53 From Limits of Acceptable Change to Tourism Optimisation Management Model

Wearing & Neil (1999p.49-50) present limits of acceptable change (LAC) methodology as an extension of a pre-existing framework referred to as the recreation opportunity spectrum (ROS). The ROS moved away from trying to calculate appropriate levels of use of an area based solely on environmental constraints, to include the ecological, social and managerial aspects of an area (Prosser, 1986p.7 cited in Wearing and Neil, 1999) though is seen as limited by its reliance upon recreational carrying capacity and hence technical methodology rather than value judgements concerning the balance of impacts, needs and values (McCool, 1990). LAC alternatively includes resource managers and stakeholders in the development of social and resource standards, the development of management plans to achieve these standards, and the monitoring and evaluation of a management plans effectiveness.

Manidis Roberts Consultants have taken the LAC framework further to include a political dimension and to focus upon a destination’s optimal sustainable performance as opposed to maximum thresholds and carrying capacities. The Tourism Optimisation Management Model (TOMM) has been summarised by McArthur (1997 cited in Wearing & Neil, 1999) as involving the following elements.

  • The identification of strategic imperatives including public sector policy and emerging issues concerning the local area.
  • The identification of community values, characteristics of the market, marketing mix used in the selling of products, and alternative modes of tourism available to a region.
  • The identification of optimum conditions, indicators, acceptable ranges, monitoring techniques, benchmarks, annual performance and predicted performance.
  • The identification of poor performance, exploration of cause and effect relationships, and the selection appropriate responses

Source McArthur (1997) cited in Wearing & Neil 1999p.52

2.6 Conclusion

There is a wealth of literature referring to sustainable tourism management. Most aspects of sustainable tourism development and the relationships between stakeholders were reviewed in sections 2.2 and 2.3 of this report. Whilst theoretical frameworks for the development of sustainable tourism ventures are relatively well developed, the operationalisation of this theory in the political, environmental, social and economic landscapes of less developed countries presents location specific challenges. Section II, below, attempts to provide specific information referring to the development of surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago, Indonesia which may be used in the development of a sustainable tourism management plan for the region.

3. Section II – Sustainable Surfing Tourism Management and the Mentawai Archipelago

3.1 Introduction

Section I of this report provided a theoretical framework for examining sustainable tourism management strategies. The following section will introduce information specific to the development of surfing tourism in Indonesia’s Mentawai archipelago within this framework. A range of possible management directions are then presented and discussed in light of destination specific conditions.

As previously mentioned, given the near total lack of objective information published on the development of surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago, much of the information presented in the following section is the result of primary qualitative research. This generally took the form of in-depth interviews, but also included email dialougue spanning several months.

Before discussing management strategies appropriate for implementation in the Mentawai archipelago, some background information needs to be provided regarding local conditions.

3.11 The Mentawai Archipelago: Background information

The Mentawai archipelago consists of four main islands and many smaller islands approximately 130 km off the coast of central west Sumatra see Figure 3. below. The Islands are administered under the umbrella of the West Sumatran Provincial Government (Reeves, 2000a; Turner et. al., 1997; Cameron, 1996).

Figure 3. Location of the Mentawai Archipelago


The largest and most northerly island is Siberut, to the south is Sipora, and, further south again are North and South Pagai (Reeves, 2000a).

West Sumatra is one of twenty-six Indonesian provinces. Provinces, headed by a Governor, are divided into regencies (Kabupaten), each headed by a Bupati. A Bupati has a certain amount of autonomy in interpreting the development of the Kabupaten under provincial guidelines (Glenn Reeves, 2000, pers. comm.). Kabupaten are divided into districts (Kecamatan), each headed by a Camat. The Mentawai islands were administered as four Kecamatan within the Kabupaten of Padang/Pariaman until October 1999 when the islands became a Kabupaten in their own right (Rick Cameron, 2000 pers. comm.; Reeves, 2000a; Paul King, 2000 pers. comm.). A decision that allows the Mentawai Bupati a certain amount of autonomy in interpreting the development of the Kabupaten.

Of the Mentawai group of islands, Siberut has attracted most attention from tourists, researchers, extractive primary resource based industries, and Indonesian government agencies (Cladecott, 1996). The island has an area of approximately 500 800 hectares and has a population of around 22 500, 90% of whom are indigenous Mentawaians (Bakker, 1999; Kramer et. al., 1997). The Mentawai archipelago has been ecologically isolated from mainland Sumatra since the mid-Pleistocene period resulting in high levels of endemism amongst its indigenous flora and fauna. Twenty fauna species are known to be endemic to the Mentawais, including four primate species. Siberut is largely covered with primary dipterocarp and mixed forest, as well as smaller areas of secondary forest and freshwater, sago, and mangrove swamps (Kramer et. al., 1997). As such Siberut has been considered to have high conservation values and has been the subject of attention from conservation organisation World Wide Fund for Nature and United Nations body UNESCO (see section 3.25). The result of this pressure has been the declaration of the Siberut National Park (Taman Nasional Siberut) encompassing slightly less than half of the island

3.2 Major Stakeholder Groups in Surfing Tourism Development in the Mentawai Archipelago

The interrelationships between stakeholders in the development of surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago are complex and not easily teased apart into the neat systems approach outlined in section 2.4 of this report. However, this section attempts to outline the position of the major stakeholder groups concerned with surfing tourism in the Mentawais.

3.21 Local Population

The population of the Mentawai islands is made up of a range of ethnicities. The most populous being the indigenous Mentawaians, perhaps the most economically and politically powerful, the Minangkabau, who originate from Sumatra. Considerable changes have taken place within indigenous Mentawai communities driven by the national and provincial governments’ pursuit of national unity (Bakker, 1999; Glenn Reeves, 2000 pers. comm.). At independence in 1945 Siberut was swiftly integrated into the Indonesian state. The Indonesian government set about developing the Mentawais in the fields of nutrition, health, housing, education and by trying to instil a sense ‘Indonesianness’. The central government firmly advocated the conversion of the Mentawaians to an official religion. Minangkabau traders and government officials lobbied for the introduction of Islam while Italian missionaries pushed Catholicism, and German Protestants argued their case (Bakker, 1999). Whilst no official national government policy existed regarding the case of the development of the Mentawais, some characteristics of pre-existing Mentawai culture were viewed as impediments to development. The West Sumatran Provincial government developed provincial policy, including the following measures, to remove these impediments:

  • Founding larger villages while undoing the closed uma structure.
  • Abolishing the traditional religion, together with all its customs and associated objects.
  • Changing the traditional systems of justice and bridesprice payment.
  • Raising the level of development by among others the introduction of rice cultivation.
  • Prohibiting ‘primitive heathen customs’: pointing one’s teeth, wearing loincloths or leafskirts, having tattoos made or men wearing long hair.

(Persoon, 1994 cited in Bakker, 1999)Locally based tourism operations, and most business operations in the archipelago are controlled by ethnic groups other than Mentawai indigenies, largely the Minangkabau from West Sumatra, and to a lesser degree the Sumatran Bataks, Niassans, Javanese and Chinese (Glenn Reeves, 2000, pers. comm.). All of these groups tend to be ethnocentric. The most powerful group, the Minangkabau have a low opinion of Mentawai indigenies and their way of life.The Minangkabau on Siberut feel culturally superior to the Mentawaians in almost all aspects of life: food, housing, clothing, religion, and material cultural. Minangkabau also look down on the Mentawaians because of their lack of solidarity and absence of a spirit of co-operation. Jealousy between the uma within a village, based on old rivalry between the groups, frustrates many development activities. The Mentawaians are also said to lack a future orientation; according to the Minangkabau they live too much on a day-to-day basis. The Minangkabau cannot understand why the Mentawaians refuse to imitate them or why the do not want to learn from them. For most of the Minangkabau, Siberut is a ‘wild’ place inhabited by ‘wild’ people who do not want to become modern

 (Persoon, 1997 p.8)It has only been in recent times, with the improvement of transportation between mainland Sumatra and Siberut, that increases in cultural tourism have created a new industry. Though the industry involved in taking tourists to visit Mentawaian uma is dominated by Minangkabau based in Danau Toba and Bukkitinggi, it has forced the Minangkabau involved in the tourism industry to view indigenous Mentawai culture as a resource worth protecting. Despite this, and in some cases Minangkabau families living in the isalnds for over twenty years, the Minangkabau generally remain cultural strangers to the indigenous Mentawaians, rarely interacting with them outside of business activities (Persoon, 1997p. 8).

The result of Minangkabau domination of tourism to the Mentawai archipelago has been the development of an apathetic approach toward tourism amongst indigenous Mentawaians. Tourism is seen as something over which they have little control, and which provides them with little economic benefit (Ministry of Forestry, 1995). Other forms of development available to Mentawaian landowners likely to afford economic benefits more substantial than those currently accrued from tourism activities, include logging and oil palm plantations (Bakker, 1999).

3.22 Government

As previously mentioned, the national and provincial government have demonstrated little respect for indigenous Mentawai culture. At the provincial level, the West Sumatran Government is interested in increasing overall tourist numbers to the Mentawai islands (Paul King, 2000 pers. comm.). The provincial government has already been involved, through the Indonesian company Mentawai Wisata Bahari (MWB see following section 3.23), in a joint venture with Australian based STRS firm Great Breaks International (GBI) which saw MWB charged with managing tourism development in the Kabuapten. These management rights were later revoked sparking a failed legal campaign from MWB to have them reinstated. More recently, under new autonomy laws in Indonesia, the Mentawai Kabupaten level government, has introduced a Zone Agreement Permit (ZAP) management system based on surfing tourism zones being granted to tourism operators. Under this system operators develop zones and management rights are applied for through the Mentawai Bupati (Cameron, 2000).

3.23 Mentawai Wisata Bahari

Mentawai Wisata Bahari has proven to be something of a force in the development of surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago. The company was formed as a joint venture between the West Sumatran Provincial Government and local partners in 1988 in response to a provincial decision to develop Siberut as a tourist destination. A result of this partnership is that all employees of the company are Minangkabau (Bakker, 1999). As mentioned above MWB has been active in seeking management rights over the development of tourism in the Mentawai archipelago. MWB continues to work in partnership with GBI under the new ZAP system of surfing tourism management. Under this system MWB is responsible for collecting the $5 ZAP fee attracted by surfing tourists (Cameron, 2000). MWB will be maintaining a land based satellite communications base in the Katiet zone of GBI’s operation, and have invested in local transport infrastructure necessary for increasing the volume of tourists to the Mentawais.

3.24 Surfing Tourism Operators

Operators of surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago operate on a number of levels of complexity and vertical integration. At the most basic level of operation operators generally pick up charter guests from Padang on the west coast of central Sumatra and are responsible for transporting them in widely varying levels of luxury and safety on live-aboard boats to the surf breaks around the Mentawai Archipelago. Operators generally include the cost of on-board catering services in the charter fee. On completion of the charter tourists are returned to Padang. At the most complete end of the service spectrum, the Surf Travel Company for example, provides a comprehensive website for tour research, maintains a travel agency office in Sydney for the distribution and promotion of its tours, owns a hotel in Padang to house its clients and has a range of boats available over a range of prices. The season of operation for most operators is from April to November, this represents an extension to what is popularly considered to be the Indonesian surfing season from May to October.

There is one small land based operation functioning in the Mentawais. The major surfing tourism operators in the area are now moving quickly to secure land for their own up-market surf resorts. Table 2, below shows the extent of the surfing tourism operations in the archipelago in the 2000 season.

Table 2. Surfing Tourism Operators in the Mentawai Archipelago

Operator + Associated Vessels
Type of Operation
The Surf Travel Company
Neptune ArythmiaHuey Burung LautKatika NavistarStrictly Business
7 Live-aboard charter boats; Proposed up market, land based resort, land acquisition completed.
Great Breaks International
Sanssouci Singa LautPari Elang PalapaSaranya Naga LautElectric Lamb
7 boats; Proposed upmarket resort land acquisition completed. Communications centre at Katiet (surf break named HTs) completed.
Good Sumateran Surf Charters
Christine BudydariSuzzane
3 Live-aboard charter boats
Martin Daly
Indies Trader II Nusa Dewata
2 Live-aboard charter boats
Wave Park LosmenUn-named outboard motor boatLosmen style accommodation 


Currently only formal and-based surfing operation in the Mentawais. 1 outboard motor boat
Independent Operators
Africa I Doa IbuAfrica II Kuda LautMangalui NatanyaSea Dog Padang Diving
Live-aboard charter boats
Local OperatorsThere are 3-4 of these 

Local fishing boats converted to accommodate live-aboard surfing tourists. 

All of the operators listed above with the exception of the local operators are foreign tourism interests.

Surfing tourism operators in the Mentawais work in an extremely competitive environment. The management of surfing tourism in the Mentawai archipelago is an extremely contentious issue and has been regularly described in popular surfing print media as war between rival STRS firms and surfing tourism operators. Issues of exclusivity and control of access to particular surf breaks, often the subject of this ‘war’, generate an emotional response from most surfers (Ian Lyon, 2000 pers. comm.), based upon the notion that waves are a dynamic resource beyond direct commodification and individual ownership.

Operators are interested in limiting the numbers of surfers and competitors, nominally for reasons of environmental and cultural protection, but also to ensure the quality of the tourist experience and facilities. There was unanimous agreement amongst surfing tourism operators working in the Mentawais, as well as STRS firms not involved in the region, and tourism consultants and academics contacted through the course of this study that some form of management of the surfing tourism industry in developing countries is necessary to

a) ensure the long-term viability of the industry,

b) ensure that real benefits from surfing tourism reach local, and particularly indigenous communities, and

c) to minimise the negative impacts of tourism development upon the local environment, cultures, and societies.

What form such management should take is at the crux of disagreements between operators in the region. A variety of possible management options have been suggested by surfing tourism operators. An examination of these is the subject of section 3.3 of this report. Attempts at cooperation between operators have been made in the establishment of the Surf Mentawai Foundation, and subsequently the Mentawai Charter Operators Association. Both groups were aimed at bringing operators together with other stakeholders to facilitate cooperation but have been hampered by divisions amongst operators and do not appear to have had any major influence over surfing tourism development to date.

3.25 Non Government Organisations (NGOs)

Conservation NGO World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has been involved in the planning of sustainable tourism on Siberut during international concern for the biodiversity of the island (including several endemic species of monkey) in the face of pressure from logging concerns in the 1970s and early 80s (Bakker, 1999). In 1980 WWF produced a document titled Saving Siberut: A Conservation Master Plan. Tourism was discussed as an option for development in this document, and in 1981 a symposium of government officials, scientists, and Mentawai residents discussed the issue, recognising the possible negative effects of tourism, and the need for indigenous participation in the planning and management process. Siberut was declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere reserve the same year (Bakker, 1999). These initiatives gradually faded from significance as both international and WWF interest waned.

A New Zealand based NGO, Surf Aid International (SAI) has recently formed in response to travelling surfers’ observations of inadequate (often absent) health care facilities in many destinations frequented by surfers. The organisation’s objective is to significantly improve the well-being of people in poverty stricken surf rich areas. Surf Aid International, with sponsorship from the surf travel industry as well as the wider surf industry aims to

  • focus on disease prevention and education through education, immunisation, and malaria prevention techniques,
  • train and employ local health workers,
  • apply for grants on behalf of indigenous populations.

SAI has selected the Mentawai archipelago as its maiden project and developed the Mentawai Health Project (MHP). The MHP aims to ‘improve over the long term, the unacceptable level of disease and suffering of the Mentawai people. Long terms goals include the construction of a local hospital (David Jenkins, 2000, pers. comm.).

3.26 Tourists

The Mentawai islands are currently flavour of the month amongst cash-rich, time-poor surfing tourists who are willing to pay a premium to surfing tourism operators to surf high quality waves in the absence of large numbers of their sporting peers. Independent surfing tourists reach the islands making little use of the formal tourism industry and travelling independently, camping on land, staying with villagers, or chartering local fishing and cargo boats. Other surfers reach the Mentawai surf breaks aboard non-commercial, private live-aboard yachts.

Demand is very high for live-aboard yacht charters to the islands in response to exposure to images of the surfing experiences available in the region. Such images can be interpreted as forming, in part, what Urry (1990) refers to as the tourist gaze. Urry’s (1990) tourist gaze is based upon the notion that objects of ‘the gaze’ must be extraordinary for tourists in some way. The ways in which tourists perceive this difference from the ‘ordinary’ in potential objects of the tourist gaze are summarised below in Table 3.

Table 3. Ways in Which Tourists Perceive the Difference of Objects of the Tourist Gaze

1.Seeing unique objects
2.Seeing particular signs
3.Seeing unfamiliar aspects that were formerly familiar
4.Seeing ordinary social aspects in unusual context
5.Carry out familiar activities in unusual visual environment
6.Signs indicating an object is extraordinary

*Source Urry, 1990

The construction of the modern surfing tourist’s gaze had its beginnings, in part, with the development of surfing cinematography, notably in Bruce Brown’s 1964 production The Endless Summer which followed two American surfers on a year long international surfing expedition (Verrender, 2000: SMH 28/10p. 1). Since this time popular surfing media, print, video and film have increasingly produced images of perfect surf on deserted paradisiacal islands in ever more exotic locations for consumption by potential surfing tourists. It is the authors contention that surfing media has, to a large extent, created the signs and cultural markers sought out by surfing tourists. These images can generate an intense desire in surfers to satisfy the range of needs they associate with surfing tourism. This is demonstrated in the following extract from an in-depth interview with a surfing tourist conducted as part of a larger study of surfing tourist motivation (Ponting, 2000). The following response was given in answer to questions referring to the type of needs felt by surfing tourists which generate departures.

I think I was chasing these perfect waves more than anything. You hear so much about Indonesia and see so much, so many photos in magazines, and when you surf and to see that stuff and not be able to experience it: it could drive a man insane. So I really wanted to get over there and experience those waves and see what it was all about…If you don’t go and experience it yourself you sit frustrated…watching it on video or looking at it in magazines. 

(Source Ponting, 2000)In terms of Urry’s (1990) perceptions of difference, the above is a description of the desire to see particular signs, the reality behind the images presented by surf industry media. There is also an element of taking the familiar activity of surfing and transposing it into what is perceived to be its ultimate visual environment and context.

A quantitative study of potential and actual surfing tourists revealed that the issues of most concern to tourists were the crowd factor at surf breaks, health risks, and the quality of the natural environment (Ponting, 2000 p.33). Despite the apparent importance of crowding to surfing tourists, the wider surfing community is widely opposed to attempts to claim ownership of and control access to surf breaks.

3.3 Management Options

Three of the tourism operators in the Mentawais responded to the author’s email queries and provided insights into their vision of surfing tourism development in the Mentawai archipelago. Other insights into possible management plans for the development of surfing tourism were gained in personal communication from tourism consultant Dave Bamford, and sustainable tourism academic Ralph Buckley. The following responses were obtained via email and/or in-depth interviews. In the case of Ralph Buckley from an abstract for a paper on recreational capacity management in the Mentawais. Questions could not be standardised as some operators chose not to answer particular questions, and in some cases provided information additional to that requested in questioning. Extracts from these interviews and personal communications with Mentawai tourism operators highlighting points discussed below can be found in appendices 1 – 3 of this report.

3.31 Paul King: The Surf Travel Company

Paul King, founder of the Surf Travel Company felt that management of tourism in the Mentawais was necessary and should take the form of licences issued by the West Sumatran Provincial Government in conjunction with a tour operator’s association responsible for developing safety standards linked to licensing. Issues of safety, sea worthiness of vessels, limits on operator numbers, and the abolition of graft and corruption in the process of licensing by the introduction of a standardised, transparent process are seen as paramount (see appendix 1). Further, King suggests that standardised contributions to an organisation such as SAI that ‘really does have the [local] people at heart’ should be required from all operators.

When asked about the necessity for enforcement of such a licensing system, King pointed out some of the likely difficulties in managing such a system and suggested that it would require the cooperation of a range of government authorities and perhaps legislation. In terms of the involvement of local communities, King feels that communities do want to be involved, particularly in the planning of tourism development. It is also suggested that local communities may not wish to have their existence impacted upon by developments from which they derive no benefit, and further admitted that so far very little benefit has been afforded to local Mentawaian populations from surfing tourism.

3.32 Rick Cameron: CEO Great Breaks International

In a comprehensive personal communication Rick Cameron described the following five key areas of change required for surfing tourism to impact positively upon the Mentawai archipelago (see Appendix 2).

  1. Delegation of Environmental Protection to Private Industry
  2. Surf/Environmental Management System
  3. Fair Tax on Surfers
  4. Land Based Accommodation
  5. Non-Surfing Tourism

Cameron’s discussion of these points can be found in Appendix 2 of this report.

3.33 Christie Carter: Wave Park Losmen

Christie Carter runs the only formal land-based surfing tourism operation in the Mentawai archipelago. His business takes tourists from Padang on mainland Sumatra by speed boat to an island in the archipelago where tourists are housed in local style accommodation, provided with meals, and transported to surf breaks by speed boat each day. It is a small operation generally catering for up to four surfers at a time.

Carter believes that the surfing tourism industry in the Mentawais has developed too quickly, and is at the point of becoming dangerous for tourists given the increasing numbers of unsafe vessels. Safety standards, and guiding quality standards are of great concern in Carter’s opinion (see Appendix 3). Whilst believing that surfing tourism development needs to be managed, Carter believes that management is the role of those local people most affected by development rather than foreign interests.

Capacity capping is viewed as unrealistic, and codes of conduct only useful in an atmosphere of respect, and if mutually beneficial to operators. The absence of these conditions is blamed on ‘booking companies’ rather than the operators of individual boats. Carter sets out a framework for the licensing of a limited number (approximately 30) of live-aboard charter boats including foreign and locally owned boats meeting minimum required safety standards.

In terms of local involvement in the development process, Carter would like to see the management of surfing tourism development in the archipelago in the hands of the local population. Accepting that this is likely to be a difficult task Carter suggests that local government will need to learn from past mistakes in Indonesia, perhaps study sustainable tourism issues and learn from other models of surfing tourism development and associated outcomes (Appendix 3).

3.34 Professor Ralph Buckley: CRC Tourism; Griffith University

This section is based on the abstract of a paper by eminent sustainable tourism academic and surfer, Ralph Buckley. As the full article was not available this section should be used only as a guide for discussion of management techniques, and not necessarily an accurate representation of the views of Professor Buckley.

Buckley’s (1999b) abstract of a paper presented to the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management advocates the determination of the surf recreational capacity of the Mentawais and the implementation of a management plan enforcing this capacity cap. This is presented in the context of revenue return from tourism to the West Sumatran provincial government being sufficiently substantial to supplant logging concessions as the government’s preferred use for Siberia’s forests. Buckley goes on to recommend that with the implementation of surfer capacity capping ‘tour operators can build up-market surf lodges which can subsequently expand to resorts for nature and cultural tourism on Siberut, potentially a much larger market’ (Buckley, 1999b), presumably highlighting the fact that a certain amount of stability in the market will be required before substantial on-ground foreign investments are made. These recommendations were, however, made at the time that MWB, in partnership with GBI, held provincially granted management rights to surfing tourism development in the archipelago and had introduced the now defunct MARVIP licensing system.

The implementation of Buckley’s (1999b) plan would clearly require major changes to the current form of surfing tourism in the Mentawais if it were to adhere to principles of sustainability. Buckley describes the better-known surf breaks in the regency as being ‘severely overcrowded’, a situation regarded as requiring remedy to ensure the quality of the surfing experience is not degraded to the extent that surfers will no longer pay the high prices charged by charter operators, and the type and number of surfing tourists attracted to the Mentawais changes. The existing situation has developed in the absence of significant industrialised land based operations (see Table 1. of this report). Therefore in order to increase the number of land based operations, whilst maintaining levels of tourism below recreational capacity, live-aboard boat charter operations would have to be scaled back or redistrubuted through the archipelago.

3.35 Dave Bamford: Tourism Resource Consultant

Dave Bamford has been involved in consulting with governments concerning the development of surfing tourism in developing countries. He provided the following insights into surfing tourism and sustainable tourism management generally.

  • In cases where surfing tourism has developed quickly locals and government agencies a like may have difficulty understanding what it is surfing tourists are interested in and what their needs are. In these cases the industry needs to work with local communities and government to avoid unnecessary confusion. It may not be readily apparent to local governments as to why regulation and management of the industry is necessary to ensure its sustainability (Bamford, 2000, pers. comm.).
  • In order to ensure adequate involvement of local populations in the development of surfing tourism governments need to demand the involvement of locals, specifically and in a fashion related to the size of particular operations. Examples from other related adventure style tourism suggests that upon the establishment of a foreign dominated tourism industry in a developing country there is often a lag time before local populations ‘catch up’ and become a force in tourism in their own right. For example in Nepal it took 15 years. The most successful of these had local managers who had moved up from guiding to a management role (Bamford, 2000, pers. comm.).
  • Bamford (2000, pers. comm.) also stressed the importance of a quality tourism product in developing a sustainable surfing tourism industry. The reason being that if the service offered to tourists is simply lodgings, then price will become an important point of competition and the sustainability of the industry may be compromised by cost cutting. On the other hand if high quality surf guiding is a major feature of a package, the competency of operators will generally win out over price.

3.36 Discussion of Management Techniques

The variety of views presented above, whilst differing in philosophical approach, agree on a number of issues. Key points of disagreement seem to stem from differing views on the level of influence private firms should have in managing Mentawaian surfing resources. Table 4 on the following page summarises the attitude of the resource people interviewed in the course of this study towards some of the major issues. Where yes or no positions could be established, the appropriate response is printed. Those fields left blank indicate the lack of a definitive position being established from the research conducted for this study.

There appears to be widespread support for the limiting of live-aboard charter boats in the archipelago, though what form this should take remains a contentious issue. Currently the private sector zone management model favoured by GBI’s Rick Cameron is in effect in the archipelago. What level of compliance will be enjoyed by the system, an initiative of the Mentawai Bupati, remains to be seen. One figure that has surfaced several times in the course of researching this paper has been that of 30 live-aboard charter boats being a sensible level for capacity capping to be instituted.

The expansion of surfing tourism operators into the realm of cultural and nature-based tourism has associated problems. A small industry in cultural and nature-based tourism already exists on Siberut. Based largely in Bukkitinggi and Lake (Danau) Toba on the Sumatran mainland, and controlled by Minangkabau operators and guides, tourists travel by public ferry to Siberut and are taken by guides to stay and interact with indigenous Mentawaians who receive payment for this hospitality (Bakker, 1999; Kramer et. al., 1997).

Table 4. Key Management Issues and Respondent Attitudes


Bamford(2000, pers. comm.) 

Is management of the surfing tourism industry in the Mentawais is necessary?
Should safety standards be introduced and enforced?
Should limits be placed on the number of surfers in the archipelago, and at particular breaks and actively enforced?
Should limits be placed on the number of live-aboard charter boats licensed to work in the Mentawais?
Acknowledgement of the inadequate links of the existing surfing tourism industry with the local economy?
Should up-market land-based resorts should be constructed in the Mentawais?
Should other forms of tourism be encouraged in the archipelago, using infrastructure initially developed to serve surfing tourists?
Should surfing tourism development and management in the Mentawais involve a high level of private sector control?
Should surfing tourism development and management in the Mentawais be largely controlled by the public sector?
Should Surf Aid International’s Mentawai Health Project be unconditionally supported by all operators?

Tourists currently visiting the archipelago (usually Siberut) for cultural and nature-based experiences are generally opposed to the development of up-market resorts for fear of the changes they may affect upon the indigenous population and the authenticity of tourist experiences (Kramer et. al. 1997). Attempts to build official lodgements for tourists on Siberut have been largely ignored by tourists and guides alike (Bakker, 1999). As such, moves to introduce nature based and cultural tourism from foreign owned up market resorts may impact negatively upon this locally generated industry. A totally new market would need to be attracted to the archipelago as the vast majority of nature based and cultural tourists currently visiting the islands are operating on very low budgets (Kramer et. al.1997). However, as Buckley (2000) and Cameron (2000, pers. comm. See Appendix 2) point out, tourism is one of several modes of development competing for implementation in the Mentawais and in order to compete with resource extraction interests, must generate similar levels of revenue for government bodies.

4. Conclusion

Perhaps the most immediate issue facing the surfing tourism industry in the Mentawais is the management of crowding at surf breaks, an issue which has all tourism operators agreeing that management of the situation is required. In its current form (almost entirely based upon live-aboard charter boats) this level of crowding has minimal impact upon the Mentawai environment, local population or economy. The issue is then, one of recreation and tourism industry product quality. As Butler (1997) suggests generally, and Buckley (1999) advocates specifically for this situation, immediate answers may come from an assessment of the recreational conditions desired by operators and tourists. In terms of more far-sighted planning for the sustainability of the surfing tourism industry, and potentially tourism generally in the Mentawais, attempts will need to be made to involve, and reconcile the needs of, all stakeholders.

A variety of frameworks are available to assist in the planning, management and monitoring of a sustainable surfing industry in the Mentawai Islands. The more developed management frameworks such as Growth Management Planning and the Tourism Optimisation Management Model require input from all stakeholders in order for the best possible management plan to be constructed. It is, then, perhaps differences within and between stakeholder groups that poses the greatest challenge to the sustainability of the industry. Even though most stakeholders are essentially seeking the same outcome – a regulated, profitable surfing tourism industry based on high value industrialised tours which is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, and which provides real benefits to local communities – animosity and divisions between operators particularly has led to an atmosphere of mistrust and secrecy. Operators who supplied their views on surfing tourism development for this study had a variety of not irreconcilable ideas, though were loathed to share their ideas with other operators for fear of conceding competitive advantage. As previously mentioned, several forums exist for discussion amongst stakeholders, though these are largely the initiative of operators and divisions appear to have led to the polarisation of these forums.

The establishment of Surf Aid International (see section 3.25) in the Mentawais has provided common ground for operators who appear to all agree with its activities and philosophy. Though even in agreeing, rival operators have found ways to argue, generally through the trading of accusations based upon alleged attempts to politicise SAI and its activities for commercial advantage. However, the common ground provided by SAI, and agreement concerning safety standards and limits to charter operations at around 30 vessles may prove useful as starting points for operators to begin to work together, rather than against each other, to sustainably manage the development of surfing tourism in the archipelago.

5. References

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7. Appendices

Appendix 1. Extracts from interview with Paul King, owner/manager the Surf Travel Company

In the following extract, taken from a verbatim in-depth interview, Paul King is explaining his views on a licensing system for Mentawai charter operators.

The ideal scenario would be that cruising yachts can still pass through but they can’t take paying passengers. It’s still open to the general public. The main thing that has to come out of all this is safety issues. Our boats and all the boats out there are always picking up people who are ill prepared and charter boats that are breaking down and don’t have radios.

The main thing will be to establish the level of tourism on board, and to restrict graft (through standardised taxes and fees). In terms of NGOs like Surf Aid [Surf Aid International] legitimate operators should all be contributing the same amount rather than some people doing some things and other people doing nothing. For example, if the Charter Operators Association says that $10 per person goes to Surf Aid, then when you do your clearance at the harbour there’s an automatic $10, or there’s an automatic fee per person that goes to a government department. It should be the same across the board and not just depend on who you know. What Surf Aid is trying to do is a really good thing. I’d like to get behind it fully, but I’d also like everybody to get behind it. All operators should be contributing to one organisation that really does have the people at heart. People turning a profit from the area should contribute to the people so that everybody benefits. Use of this money should be a transparent process so that it doesn’t go into a private company or into private hands.

We’d like to see everyone with radios. You are supposed to have radios at the moment, but you can pay your way around it. Things like that need to be tightened up. As far as locals running tours, they’ve got to come in under guidelines as well. You can’t just have a boat and take paying passengers and put them at risk. The responsibility often falls back onto legitimate charter operators to rectify these problems (Paul King, 2000 pers. comm. 10th August).

It’s a really difficult situation. When someone has a licence, is it renewed annually? If so who renews it? If a dodgy operator comes along with money and wants a licence how do you stop them being issued one? How do you stop licences being revoked provided operators stick to the code of conduct and the rules of having the licence? It’s a hard one to enforce, but it has to be done in conjunction with the operators. With western operators it’s through their sponsors because the western people (even though we’re the backbone of it), we don’t have a say in the political structure. Our sponsors, the Indonesian side of everyone, can. The harbour masters, the navy, sea communications, the tourism department and the government should all be a part of this association. Once the association makes decisions it could then become policy because all the relevant government bodies would be there (Paul King, 2000 pers. comm. 10th August).

The locals just want to be included and to have a say in what goes on. That’s what’s vital to the success of any operation. Anyone can tread on anyone they want, but in the long term it’s going to go against them. In the long term you are always gong to have problems. They don’t want to be trodden on, but if it’s [tourism] going to benefit everybody then they will be apart of it. They don’t want to close the door completely but then again they don’t want to be disrupted if it’s not to their benefit. They realise that there is money in this thing and they’d like to be involved, but as far as benefits to the Mentawai people from tourism at this point go, well, there haven’t been a lot yet (Paul King, 2000 pers. comm. 10th August).

Appendix 2. Extracts from personal communication from Rick Cameron, CEO of Great Breaks International

To date the surf industry has contributed very little to the area. It suits the industry to have free and unrestricted access to some of the worlds best surf and it is easy to ignore the problems ashore relaxing in the comfort of an air conditioned charter yacht half a mile from the beach. I would prioritise the action needed to change this situation as follows:

No 1 Delegation of Environmental Protection to Private Industry

The Mentawai environment has been under massive threat for a long time. Tourism is the areas only chance to bring the destruction to a halt or even slow it down. The logging industry is huge, reef bombing and potassium poisoning for tropical fish capture are rampant and many local people have been seduced into these activities because they pay well. The Government has many other urgent priorities and the area is an infrastructure vacuum. The ZAP “zone” based environmental protection system is a vital and practical first step in that it empowers private companies with the legal software to stop the destruction in specified zones. Tourism companies have a vested interest in preservation. No other industry can make a credible claim that they will try to protect any part of this huge and remote archipelago. This is a first in Indonesia. I know of no other viable option given the budget constraints faced by the Regional Administrations around the country.

No 2 Surf/Environmental Management System

Shoddy local boats are proliferating in the Mentawais and if this trend continues unchecked, supply and demand will see to the rest.  The operators who pioneered the area and who have invested heavily in strong safe boats are all in agreement that something must be done or they will soon be forced to move on. As a group, the operators just can’t agree on how to go about it. So we took the initiative.

MWB applied for, and were granted, zone management rights at 3 locations based on the following principals:

a) Estimated carrying capacity of each surf break to ensure maximum sustainable economic return and minimum environmental/social impact.

b) Quota for each surf zone derived from a) that limits the number of boats/surfers at each break each day to achieve above objectives.

c) Coastguard enforcement to ensure compliance.

Without such a system a surf invasion might bring some economic benefits to a select few but the inevitable harm and trouble will overshadow any positive outcome for the Islanders long term.  There are plenty of ugly examples of this in Indonesia.

No 3 Fair Tax on Surfers

Next step is for the Mentawai Regional Government to impose a fair “development” tax on every surfer every day to fund infrastructure. Hopefully these funds will be utilized in the villages near popular surf breaks at first, and perhaps in non-surf areas in the future.  Under new national autonomy laws, each province and region needs to raise tax revenues to a self-sufficient level rather than waiting on funds to filter down from the Central Government. The ZAP system is the Mentawai Regional Administration’s new initiative and the fee of $5/surfer/day is more than reasonable if the crowding can be managed effectively.

No 4 Land Based Accommodation

For obvious reasons, the surf charter boat operators would prefer that no land based surf resorts be developed in the area. On the other hand the Regional Administration and most village people are naturally not happy about live-aboard surf charter boats dominating the Mentawai surf scene into the future. They get nothing from it. Boat operators will always be regarded as outsiders and I don’t think that their interests will ever be taken seriously by the island’s residents. The answer is a sensible mix of affordable and safe land camps and seaworthy live-aboard boats.

The biggest single issue for land camps is managing the malaria risks to guests. It is not easy and quite expensive to eliminate malaria in the areas around land based accommodation but it can be done. (Bali had a lot of malaria until the late 1950s). If the land camps can be confident of a good room rate and strong demand, there will be enough money to create malaria free zones around the camps and for this area to be expanded over time to minimize the effects of this and other diseases in coastal villages. Low cost losmen style developments will never generate enough revenues to tackle the health issues adequately.

Land camps benefit existing land owners along with those in the surrounding area who produce fruit, fish and other produce for the camp kitchens. Land based accommodation will employ a lot of Mentawai Islanders near their traditional homes.  The Regional Administration will collect tax from the construction permits and all future resort sales, so to fight this kind of development is the equivalent of sticking your head in the sand. Anyone who dreams of the Mentawais remaining unchanged should read some history books or try trekking across South Pagai. The area is changing fast and a lot of damage has been done.

No 5 Non-Surf Tourism

Surfers come first but they are a tiny minority of the worlds travel market. Tourists with other interests will eventually outnumber surfers and the challenge in the future will be to manage their impact on the few remaining pockets of surviving tribal cultures and the areas unique but shrinking wilderness. Tourism is the only economic alternative to logging, overfishing and reef bombing that continue to devastate the area.

Appendix 3. Extracts from personal communication from Christie Carter, owner/manager Wave Park Losmen

My view on the development in surfing tourism is that it has been far too fast, and is quickly reaching a dangerous level, for the guests. The quality of boats being used at the moment for charter is slowly degrading, and by next year the majority of the charter boats will probably be Indonesian owned and operated, being booked by foreign travel companies. No radio, GPS, life-rafts back up engine etc. There were even cases I saw of people going on trips where the crew didn’t speak any English, and didn’t know a thing about the surf spots or anchorages (for $150 a day mind you).

Of course the development needs to be managed, but it needs to be done by the people who are most affected by that development, not by foreign interests. In my mind, foreign commercial interests have no right to involve themselves with local politics and power scraps. Foreign interests should be welcome to make recommendations and to fight for their rights as foreigners, but they shouldn’t try and control issues that will ultimately affect peoples that are not of their own country. I don’t think that capacity capping is realistic, and codes of conduct only can work as long as everybody has something to gain by using them, and respect is established.
While the boat operators have a certain amount of respect amongst themselves
at the moment, the bookings companies have always been fighting tooth and
nail to control the ocean.

I think the best form of control is price control, and this could be established by the Indonesian government: silent-auctioning operating licenses to the boat operators, who would then pass on the cost to the guests. For example, lets imagine if 15 foreign flagged vessels are allowed in the islands, each license costing $20,000 (for example). Another 15 locally registered and safety equipped vessels are allowed licenses to operate, but the cost is less, and therefore the guests cost would be less. 30 boats is plenty (and reality of that number is not too far off). Therefore, to go on a 4 star boat, you would have to pay mega bucks because the booking company invested in that operating license for the season. To get on a less costly boat, perhaps a lottery
system could be implemented. There is enough demand to make this happen

I dream of a Mentawai chain that is controlled by the Mentawaian people themselves. They would control the locations and assets such as surf-camps, local boats etc. Of course they would need outside assistance from travel companies that can market and book the destinations for the people, and to some degree manage the service so that they are supporting and selling a quality product and service. The locals themselves can implement these businesses (with a little financial help) and control the entire island chain now that they are being given autonomy within Indonesia (apparently starting next year). This may only become a reality, however, if the parties in power in the Mentawais are responsible enough to be educated in what has happened in the past, and what SHOULDN’T happen in the future. They should be flown to places like Tavarua, G-Land, Nias and the Ranch. They should be provided with documents
to study regarding sustainable tourism and environmental issues. Basically learn from people’s mistakes in the past. Everybody uses Nias as an example.

Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

charles kushner November 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

awesome article.
would love to continue to receive any updates


Glenn November 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm

I’m a bit out of the loop with this stuff these days Charles. But you never know what may turn up.


charles kushner November 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

ok Tx Glen… May I ask if you are in taiwan, why co you continue with the Mentawai website??


Glenn November 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Mainly because there is no sound reason not to continue with it. My content tracking script tells me visitors are copying heaps of material on a weekly basis. While people still find it useful I’ll keep it going and add what I can when I can.