The Jakarta Post
The increase in the number of tourists to Borobudur Temple last Sunday – thanks to the presence of Hollywood actor Richard Gere – has encouraged the temple’s management unit to invite other international figures to the tourism site.
Richard Gere, his wife Carey Lowell and son Homer James Jigme Gere were among the honorary guests at the colossal Mahakarya Borobudur (Borobudur the Masterpiece) dance performance held on Sunday evening at the Aksobya open stage in the temple yard.
“We were forced to double the number of seats for the performance this evening,” Pujo Suwarno, head of PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko, which supervises Borobudur, said after the show on Sunday.
He said the company had initially only expected 500 guests for the dance performance, which describes how the world heritage site was created in the 9th Century by the Syailendra Dynasty. As demand increased, organizers eventually prepared 1,000 seats, including for the festival, VIP and VVIP classes.
“The response was beyond our expectations,” Pujo said.
He said inviting Gere to the performance had indeed been expected to help increase the number of foreign tourists to the temple, especially to enjoy alternative tourist packages offered by the management company.
With such an event, foreign tourists are expected to extend their stay in and around the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Hopefully, it will also open opportunities for local communities to promote and sell their goods in order to improve their own economic circumstances.
Among other potential tourist attractions, the surrounding community has to offer include art performances, handicraft, traditional foods and snacks and home stays.
Pujo also said that involving local communities in the development of the tourism sector for Borobudur had been the company’s policy to help create long-term sustainable development.
The Mahakarya Borobudur dance, which was first launched in 2005, was performed by local performers from the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) Surakarta, Central Java. Last Sunday’s performance was the 11th since it was launched.
“We hope that the Hollywood star’s visit to the temple would bring a positive effect and restore foreign tourist visits to the region following the eruptions at Mount Merapi,” Pujo said.
A non-cemented construction 122-meters by 122-meters and over 35-meters high, made of some 55,000 andesit stones, Borobudur Temple was fully covered in thick layers of volcanic ash and sand from the eruptions of Mount Merapi in October and November last year.
The condition forced the temple management and Borobudur Conservation Agency to close it to public visits for several weeks. Clean up activities at the temple are still presently ongoing, even now, with over 100 workers participating under the supervision of international experts.
“Because of that, the temple’s first three floors of eight, nine and 10 are also still closed to the public,” Borobudur Conservation Agency head Marsis Sutopo told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of Gere’s visit to the temple on Monday morning.
UNESCO Jakarta Office Director Hubert Gijzen said the cleaning activities for the world heritage site were finally expected to be complete in November this year, as it requires that workers dismantle some of the surface stones to free volcanic ash and sand that had been trapped inside the drainage system.
Despite the condition, however, tourist visits to the site are still considered relatively high. Last year, despite the eruptions, Borobudur received nearly 2,300,000 domestic tourists and over 150,000 foreign visitors.
This year the management company is expecting to receive about the same number of domestic tourists and some 220,000 foreign tourists. It expressed optimism that the target would be met, considering the various tourist packages on offer.
Criticism, however, has poured in, as many of the spectators of last Sunday’s performance expressed disappointment over being unable to get close to Richard Gere.
“I paid Rp 10 million for a platinum table for a special dinner with Gere. It turned out that Gere was not even there with us for the dinner. I also could not get near to him this morning at the temple to take a picture of him,” Linda, a young bank employee from Jakarta, said.
“I have come this far only to feel disappointed. The organizer should have kept its promise,” Linda added.