Photograph: Photograph by John Crux/Getty Images
Luiza Kosykh says she didn’t know the 700-year-old tree in front of which she posed naked was sacred. However, the viral snap captured by the Russian citizen in Bali was enough to infuriate the local community and resulted in her swift arrest and deportation.
The case is part of a growing number of incidents involving unruly visitors, as tensions between foreign influencers and locals on the Indonesian island reach boiling point.
Related: Indonesia considers tourist tax to curb bad behavior in Bali
Once known as a laid-back surfer’s paradise, Bali has in recent years become a popular backdrop for ‘content creators’ looking to promote their picture-perfect lifestyle. The streets of cities like Canggu and Ubud are now lined with aesthetically pleasing cafés and bohemian clothing shops seen as perfect settings to attract Instagram and TikTok likes.
According to the local statistics office, the number of foreign visitors entering Bali jumped to more than 300,000 every month in early 2023. The numbers were dominated by Australian nationals, as well as Indian and Russian tourists. A by-product of the increase in tourism has been increased traffic, construction and pollution. These changing dynamics, combined with a perceived lack of respect for Bali’s Hindu culture and beliefs shown by some influencers, have prompted the local community to take action.
“Our hospitality has been taken for granted,” Niluh Djelantik, a Balinese entrepreneur and activist, told the Guardian.
Referring to a video of a foreigner riding a motorbike around Bali while standing on his seat, Djelantik says: “If you wouldn’t do these things in your country, don’t do it in Bali.
“Don’t blame us if we act, don’t blame us if we talk, don’t blame us if we stand up and… tell you it has to stop.”
The short-term ‘business or tourist visas’ which cost around 3m rupees (£162/$202) and allow foreigners to stay in the country for six months have served as a loophole for thousands of digital nomads who have made home in Bali without paying taxes, heightening tension among some locals who feel visitors are not contributing.
Related: Bali’s governor says Indonesia’s ban on sex outside marriage poses no risk to tourists
“Many people go for a long time without the right visa and promote this remote lifestyle,” says Rosie Lakusa, founder of Wings Canggu restaurant. The 29-year-old says the situation is complex and a symptom of mass tourism.
Examples of tourists being targeted for their behavior have increased. Russian influencer Alina Fazleeva was forced to undergo a purification ceremony before deportation after posing nude at a holy site in 2022. The same year, immigration officials intervened after Canadian actor Jeffrey Craigen filmed performing the ceremonial haka dance naked on Bali’s Mount Batur.
‘respect each other’
The behavior of some foreigners has given rise to a number of vigilant social media pages that monitor influencers and bad “bules” – a term often used by the Balinese to refer to Western foreigners.
These sites share footage of reckless behavior and identify foreigners working illegally, urging local authorities to take action. Such pages often have large followings and posts tend to be filled with comments from frustrated locals.
An official response to the bad behavior was proposed by Bali governor Wayan Koster last month, which included restricting tourists renting motorbikes.
In addition to the “disrespectful” behavior, other frustrations have emerged as digital nomads multiply and job opportunities become competitive.
Ketut Widiartawan, 33, is the owner of the Bali Green surf school and runs the popular Northsidestory Instagram account. In recent years, he has seen fierce competition among small businesses. “He’s almost in competition with the locals,” Ketut says of foreigners who decide to start work in Bali without the right papers.
“It’s not a problem if you do business here, it’s good that you hire locals,” he added, “but some of them don’t do it right.”
With tourism making up the majority of Bali’s GDP, officials have been forced to balance maintaining the island’s charm while taking a hard line on bad behavior. However, some feel that stricter entry requirements are needed. “The government must intervene,” says Djelantik. “They need to wake up.”
Despite the tensions, Ketut points out that the problems are limited to a small number of visitors. “Not all tourists who come here are like this. There are also so many beautiful people who come here and support local businesses.”
Ketut called on locals and foreigners to “respect each other”.
“I just hope Bali doesn’t get destroyed. There are so many new resorts all the time. We hope Bali doesn’t lose its beauty and culture.”
Lakusa also wants tourists to come to Bali to appreciate its “amazing culture and amazing nature…and get to know each other.”
“We are very nice people if you are nice to us. Bali is supposed to be relaxed. Live a simple life, don’t complicate it.”