Prima Wira Putra
Fellow Since 1992
This profile was prepared when Prima Wira Putra was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
On the island of Lombok, just east of Bali in Indonesia, Prima Wira Putra is creating an alternative model for tourism that carves out new space for local communities in the industry and creates new relationships between foreign visitors and the local communities.
The New Idea
Prima proposes to turn the structure of the tourist industry on its head. The almost invariable pattern now leads to outside interests benefiting from accumulated skills, regulatory contacts, and access to capital taking control. These outsiders gain most of the profit and use local people in only low skilled, marginal ways. This extractive paradigm produces and relies on a superimposed physical infrastructure and a tourist culture that disrupt and marginalize the local economy and lifestyle and offer little benefit to the community in return. It divides and conquers local residents. It also almost completely isolates tourists from meaningful contact with local people and their issues and culture. Prima has set out to take control of tourism in ways that not only reinforce the local lifestyle and return financial benefit to the host communities, but that also improve the quality of the tourist's experience by grounding it in contact with local residents, traditions, and institutions. His alternative tourism, while not for everyone, is a model that appeals to a distinct and growing market niche socially and politically aware tourists from First World countries who are culturally experienced and curious, and who do not want "colonial" tourist experiences that only contribute to a further widening of the gap between rich and poor.
The local government of West Nusa Tenggara, in its current development plan, decided that tourism should become the second major program priority after agricultural development.To make this program a success, the government then invited investors to provide the facilities: namely, hotels, restaurants, and shops. This created a rash of land rights issues. In most cases, the local people were not satisfied with the compensation they got from the government. It failed to compensate them for the income they used to earn from the lost land, and it did not begin to balance the loss of the use of skills developed over a lifetime. The new tourist sector could not absorb them, in part because they required particular skills and training. A peasant or fisherman, for example, cannot be transformed overnight into even a waiter or bellboy. Thus, far from benefiting from tourism, many previously secure local families have been impoverished. Mature adults and older people are especially vulnerable.Tourism has also altered local lifestyles in other ways. It often brings prostitution, which inevitably leads to poor young men and women selling themselves to foreign visitors. As Bali has experienced, some tourists also catalyze the creation of local drug markets.Further, rapid commercial development of tourism regularly leads to environmental problems. On Lombok, a dry island with limited groundwater resources, this problem is symbolized by both the tourist's huge water use and, even more, by the hotels' big swimming pools. Untreated organic wastes are another unwelcome contribution to the island's quality of life.
Setting out on the road to change, Prima quickly created the Forum of Peoples' Resources Alternative Tourist Bureau. By linking his work with the forum, he created an instant network of citizen organization allies located across the area concerned with tourism. Prima launched two major programs: rural culture and ecotourism.The rural culture program invites visitors to stay in villagers' homes and to participate fully in community activities: attending meetings, observing people's daily activities, and taking part in problem-solving discussions. This opportunity will give the tourists the great gift of true learning and personal growth. It will make at least some of them want to help the people they have met deal with their problems. Prima hopes they will return and spread their new understanding and perhaps spark concrete support programs. He also hopes that their word-of-mouth reports will lead others to come on future alternative tours. One important early result of the cultural tourism program has been visitors' support for the renovation of a crumbling elementary school. Prima successfully launched this program in several villages: Darek, Jembe, Swangi, Sembalun and Bungin.Cultural tourism involves more than simply inviting tourists to stay in the villages. Some improvement of facilities is needed. Prima is therefore organizing training programs that enable villagers to develop public utilities and housing that will meet basic tourism standards. At the same time, he is working hard to help the villagers organize the production of highquality traditional handicrafts (to be sold as souvenirs) and to revive traditional performing arts. In both cases, he is helping the villagers enhance their skills and organize to capture much of the benefit of the added value they are bringing.For ecotourism, Prima initially chose two villages located on the slopes, respectively, of Mount Rinjani and Mount Tamvora. These villages suffer from serious environmental degradation, which allows the visiting tourists to experience the area's environmental problems. The local people, trained in some English and guiding skills by Prima, act as tour guides.With these early Lombok programs working successfully, Prima is now moving to expand his impact across Indonesia's archipelago and to build a growing flow of social tourists. He has built a successful relationship with the socially conscious Dutch travel bureau Delta Reizen, which now regularly sends him groups. Delta Reizen has gained such confidence in Prima that it fully entrusts its clients to his management, doing away with the expense of outside tour management. Prima is looking for other such firms and relationships.Prima has also reached out to citizen groups in other parts of Indonesia showing them how to do what he has done and gradually building the capacity to offer multi-regional tours. He has such allies now in the provinces of North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Aceh, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Maluku, Irian Jaya, and East Nusa Tenggara. He has also made direct contacts with a number of villages in north Bali, and found them very attracted to the idea. He is beginning to help them adopt the program.
Prima was born in Praya, central Lombok, in 1966 to a Sasak artist's family. Not surprisingly, he was involved with art very early. He won several painting and poetry reading competitions. It was during his student years that his activities started to focus on defending the marginalized. He was involved in several cases of defending people's rights, and actively used theater as a medium for consciousness-raising.Prima has always been a concerned leader. He was an active Boy Scout, chaired the local youth organization, and was the chairman of the student council during his university years. Prima's chief academic studies have been in educational psychology.Later, Prima and some friends set up the Tourism and Environment Study Group (Koslata), devoted to researching and changing tourism policy. In the course of its development, Prima realized that such a group would not directly benefit marginalized local communities. He then decided to join the local citizen organizations forum and launched his Alternative Tourist Bureau.