Updated: Oct 14, 2022
Since the pandemic started last year, the economic decline forced a lot of industries to close their doors including tourism at Gili. When tourism is the only source of revenue to sustain the island, what can we do to help Gili Islands to survive?
The impact pandemic has on tourism is threatening. Especially regions with tourism-dependent economies like the Gili Islands.
Originally a backpacker and diver’s haven, for some time, the Gilis have already become a must-visit destination for tourists, particularly partygoers. Gili's nightlife offers not only the youth’s vigour but also a wide variety of local cuisines. These warm raves are on the edge of closing their door altogether because of the pandemic.
Gili as a sustainable island
Gili islands, especially Gili Trawangan, has a sustainable approach to island management. It centers on ecotourism, waste management with recycling and upcycling initiatives, coral reef restoration on biorocks and animal welfare. This did not happen overnight and took years of work initiated by Gili Eco Trust and supported by the people and other organizations along the way.
Gili was known as the party island where all the party animals go. They then realized that the island was only waiting for the time to crumble as the island is small and fragile to any environmental damage, let alone irresponsible tourism practices.
Starting out saving marine life, Gili Eco Trust envisioned to expand their impact to creating a sustainable island of Gili Trawangan with tourism as its core. They use coral reef restoration, snorkeling and diving to attract tourists that then will pay for the conservation itself, creating a sustainable loop.
The coral reef rehabilitation itself is planted on the biorock technology that makes corals have higher growth and survival rate from chemical or physical damages. What makes it even more interesting is that these biorocks need power that is supplied from the island, connected by underwater cables to local hotels that invest their resources on this conservation activity that will enhance their guests’ staying experience.
Ecotourism activities also thrive in Gili Trawangan, such as beach clean up and waste recycling trips. Gili Trawangan has a simple & effective waste management that is centered in the middle of the island with many recycling and upcycling activities. After a long process of education, Gili Eco Trust managed to convince a lot of local shops and cafes to reduce their non-biodegradable waste and start using and selling upcycled goods within their business.
Funnily, waste management also creates tourism related jobs. Eco Rangers and local scavengers are always on deck to collect all the recyclable waste. For the local scavengers, in particular, wastes are vital to sustaining their everyday lives, especially in high seasons.
Gili Trawangan is a near picture perfect example of experience design for a small island. The system teaches simple, rural and sustainable life that tourists will most likely take home with them. The whole island teaches you to think circularly and act mindfully.
The impact of COVID-19
As much as Gili is environmentally sustainable, it is fragile for a society to depend on one single industry alone. The pandemic demonstrates that very well.
There are approximately 80% of local businesses closed during the pandemic that struggles to maintain their operational costs as traveling is very restricted. As tourist visits go down, the volume of recyclable wastes also decreases and causes smaller to none income for local scavengers.
A lot of local food stalls owners closed their business and then decided to go back to Lombok for much affordable living costs. Even though they will go back occasionally to Gili to help its people.
The coral reef rehabilitation faces another issue. As businesses are closing down, the power supply for the biorocks also decreases. If that’s not enough, some desperate people decided to risk their lives to steal the underwater cables that cost thousands of dollars to fix. In the next coral bleaching event, the corals will not be able to survive and undo all of the beautiful work that has been done for years. Without all of this ecosystem in place, the island will also face serious damage to the coastal area.
If this goes on for a long time, the system to sustain Gili afloat is threatened to fail. A constant stream of tourists is all Gili needs now to rebuild its economy. Being a small, isolated island, there is not much that Gili can do besides relying on its breathtaking nature for the leisure industry. So, when the time comes and it’s safe to travel again, remember to go #BackToGili so that #GiliWillRise stronger.
Bumi Journey envisions climate positive ecotourism by providing carbon-conscious ecotourism experiences focusing on conservation, education, and community empowerment so travelers can contribute positively to the earth’s climate. Learn more about our story here.
Writer: Virda Risyad
Editor: Faiz Karim
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