De-Constructing Wonderland: Surfing Tourism in the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Loisir et Societe, 2005, 28 (1), pp. 141 - 162
Issue Date:
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The purpose of this paper is to deconstruct surfing tourist space (Wonderland) in the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia, and to show the distribution of wealth generated through foreign tourists accessing local resources is inequitable and unsustainable. The discovery of world-class surf in this region in the early 1990’s spawned the rapid development of a foreign-controlled surfing tourism industry. This paper seeks to establish the notion of ‘tourist space’ as a conceptual tool for analysing the rise of surfing tourism in Indonesia based on 50 years of narrative, surf exploration and idealized media representations of uncrowded surf breaks and high adventure–in short, Wonderland. In the Mentawai context, a marketing synergy between foreign surf-tour operators, the media, and surfwear manufacturers have written local populations, government, and NGOs out of the ‘Wonderland’ equation. This paper analyses the construction of surfing tourist space in Indonesia by unpacking its components to reveal foundations historically based in surfer mythology. We argue that through a comparison with best practice principles of tourism development, a re-evaluation of self and other, and empowerment of community based organizations that a re-conceptualisation of tourist space may allow new, more effective foundations to be laid in pursuit of sustainable tourism development. © 2005 Presses de l’Université du Québec.
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