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20 Feb 2016

Towards Sustainable Dolphin Watching Tourism in Lovina, Bali, Indonesia

Putu Liza Kusuma Mustika, June 2011
James Cook University

This research studied dolphin watching in Lovina, North Bali, Indonesia in the theoretical context of quadruple bottomline sustainability and the prism of sustainability to investigate the biological, social, economic and managerial elements of the sustainability of the industry.

This industry depends on predictable access to coastal dolphins, particularly dwarf spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris roseiventris). Dolphin watching tourism at Lovina began in the late 1980s when local artisanal fishers formed self-regulating cooperatives. Up to 179 dedicated traditional fishing vessels (jukungs) are available to take passengers to watch the cetaceans that are predictably found 3-4 km from the shore. An average of 34.5 tour boats from four dolphin associations operated for up to three hours each morning in Lovina during my data collection period (2007 to 2009), with up to about 100 tour boats per day searching for the animals during the high tourist visitation season. A school of dolphins could be surrounded by up to 83 boats (median 15.35). In an encounter, the number of boats generally outnumbered the number of dolphins (median spinner-to-boat ratio = 0.8:1).

The dolphins generally surfaced only briefly (<2 minutes) and were almost always travelling when first sighted in the mornings. Most dolphin schools were surrounded by boats, making the establishment of control units impossible. Many boats were driven erratically, making it very difficult to measure the impact of this industry on the local dolphin population. However, examination of the boatmen’s conduct indicated that the operations at Lovina did not conform to accepted international norms. Most boatmen attempted to get as close as possible to the dolphins (generally much closer than the recommended 50m minimum approach distance stipulated in Australian and many other national-level regulations).  During 175 scan sampling efforts over 36 days I identified 64 individual boats that displayed ‘behaviours of concern’ at least once.

The industry generally attracts tertiary-educated international visitors. In 2007-2009, two-thirds of the dolphin tourists came from Western countries; the rest were from Asia. Average tourist satisfaction was low to medium (7.1 on a scale of 1-10). While there was no significant difference between the average satisfaction of Western and Asian tourists, the associated variables differed. The satisfaction of Western tourists was associated with encounter management, their preferred number of surrounding boats and the number of dolphins seen. Encounter management was the only variable associated with the satisfaction of Asian tourists. Western respondents disliked the mismanagement of the dolphin tour; they considered that too many boats exhibited behaviours of concern and that the approach distances were too close. Satisfaction was positively associated with the willingness of tourists to recommend the tour to others. Western respondents who felt neutral to very comfortable with the way their boatmen managed the dolphin encounters were more likely to promote the tour. Thus the low to medium satisfaction levels of Western dolphin tourists threatened to bring negative publicity for Lovina dolphin tourism from word of mouth and other sources.

In 2007-2009, the industry attracted at least 37,000 overnight visitors per annum (~60% of Lovina’s overnight tourists) who contributed up to USD 9.5 million p.a. in total direct expenditures (i.e., tickets, accommodation, meals, transportation, communication and souvenirs). At least 46% of the total direct expenditure was attributable to the dolphin watching tourism. The boatmen enjoyed an above average income but trip fees constituted only 3% of the total income generated by dolphin watching tourism; the remainder was spent on local businesses e.g., accommodation, restaurant and transport, which are the most substantial beneficiaries. As a consequence of the economic importance of this industry to the boatmen and the villages, it is important for the boatmen to improve their dolphin encounter management to meet the expectations of the highly educated international visitors. Because the industry also brings a significant economic contribution to other business sectors, the sustainability of the overall industry is very important to them. The hoteliers, restaurateurs and travel agents should also be included in the future management strategies in Lovina, including assisting the boatmen in improving their service.

Interviews with the boatmen confirmed that the industry was essentially unregulated. The boatmen were concerned about the industry’s long-term sustainability, especially their encounter management practices and other operational issues such as garbage and safety. The boatmen agreed in-principle to improve their encounter management by: 1) turning off the engine/lifting the propeller, 2) keeping the boat’s distance from the dolphins and 3) avoiding cutting across the dolphin’s route. However, they were reluctant to limit the fleet size, very likely due to the economic importance of the industry to their livelihoods.

Reduction of the boat crowding in Lovina is important from the perspectives of animal welfare and tourist satisfaction. Replacing the jukungs with larger boats to reduce the number of boats is considered impractical from funding and organisational viewpoints. This idea is also undesirable from the cultural viewpoint and because it might reduce tourist experience. Establishing an agreed minimum approach distance would be an indirect approach to managing the number of boats and viewing duration. This strategy could be achieved by establishing an agreed maximum number of boats (15 is suggested) in a 50m perimeter for an agreed viewing time for safety, comfort and tourist experience.

The in-principle agreements established by the Lovina boatmen have not yet been implemented. Training programs should be offered to the boatmen, including how to estimate approach distance and speed limit and appropriate methods to approach the animals. Once training is completed, discussions should be directed to add more management aspects to the codes of practice (e.g., speed limitation, encounter fleet size and approach behaviours) and to codify the codes of practice e.g., by including the guideline in the local Balinese awig-awig (customary norms/rules).  The guidelines could then be adopted at regency and national levels.

Several challenges and opportunities must be considered in managing the Lovina dolphin watching industry in a sustainable manner. Working with the local community in Bali requires an appreciation of the characteristics of the people of Bali, including its patriarchal nature, the traditional codification system or awig-awig and the local sustainability framework (‘Tri Hita Karana’). Bali was usually conceived as a cultural tourism destination. The inclusion of cultural elements (e.g., the daily life of a dolphin boatman and the construction, repair and maintenance of the traditional outriggered wooden canoe or ‘jukung’) can enhance the tourist experience, increase the length of stay and reduce the focus on the dolphins themselves, which in turn could benefit the promotion of the dolphin tour and the local economy.

The biological sustainability of the dolphin watching industry in Lovina is questionable and most tourists are not very satisfied. However, because the industry is very valuable to the boatmen and the villages, the long term sustainability, viability and health of the dolphins are a priority to a socially and economically sustainable industry. Consequently, the industry needs to be sustainably managed with the consent and involvement of all boatmen and other supporting stakeholders. Despite the current concerns over its sustainability, the Lovina dolphin watching industry could potentially become an exemplar of community-based tourism in a developing country that is successfully co-managed from multiple perspectives. The four elements of sustainability used in this research provided valuable insights into the industry and should be applicable to other studies designed to inform sustainable marine wildlife tourism in developing countries.

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