The chairman of an influential tourism association stated Sunday that an increasing number of local tourism operators have now set their sights on the island of Sumba in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), believing it to be the next Bali for international tourists.
“We are increasing a promotional and marketing campaign to introduce the island on the global stage,” The Association of the Indonesia Tour and Travel Agency (Asita) Bali chapter chairman Aloysius Purwa said.
“The island has magnificent natural beauty, as well as cultural heritage. It will easily become the country’s next prime international destination — the next Bali,” he said.
He pointed to the island’s unique cultural heritage and ancient belief system as the first factor that would draw visitor attention. The indigenous belief system, known as Marapu, which is centered on a megalithic culture of majestic stone structures, would amaze visitors, he said.
“Everywhere in Sumba, visitors can come across rustic, ancient villages with large stone structures at their center. The stones function as either ancestral tombs or a venue for elaborate and colorful sacrificial rituals, which mesmerize tourists who are fortunate enough to visit the island,” he said.
Sumba’s traditional architecture and unique cultural events, such as Pasola, which involves a mock battle between spear wielding warriors on horseback, as well as the beauty of Sumba’s handwoven double-ikat clothes would certainly charm visitors.
“The island also boasts magnificent natural beauty with white sandy beaches offering a panorama that no beach in Bali could surpass. Diving and snorkeling spots are abundant on the island’s northern shores, while its southern shores offer a challenging paradise for surfers,” he said.
The island also has superior infrastructure. The main roads have an average width of 30 meters and there are two airports — Tambolaka in West Sumba and Waingapu in East Sumba.
“Currently, there are 15 regular flights per week from Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport provided by Lion, Merpati and Transnusa. It takes a one hour flight to reach Sumba and the island also has a ferry harbor in Waikelo. All these facilities mean that the island is ready to receive a large number of foreign visitors,” he said.
The association had also suggested the local administration provide sea plane services for connection to the island’s most beautiful beach, Pantai Kita, and the neighboring island of Komodo; home of the world famous Komodo dragon.
“It will take only 15 minutes for a sea plane to reach Komodo. The availability of this sea plane service will increase the attractiveness of Sumba in the eyes of international tour operators wishing to offer their clients with as many travel options as possible,” he added.
Sumba, with a current population of 800,000, has only one resort, Nihiwatu Resort, which has been acknowledged as one of the world’s five best eco-hotels. Despite its expensive rate of US$600 per night, the resort has always been fully booked.
“We need medium class boarding facilities to attract visitors from mid-level incomes and we also need to establish a tourism school to train local youths,” he added.
Purwa disclosed that the association had established contact with the local administration in order to develop a joint tourism development strategy. West Sumba Regent Jubilate Pieter recently travelled to Bali to present his plan before representatives of more than 80 tour operators.
“The relevant agencies and local administrations should prepare the necessary legislation in order to prevent unrestrained tourism development from taking place. Sumba should not repeat the mistakes made by Bali, where lack of legislation and law enforcement had given birth to unchecked development and environmental degradation,” Purwa advised.
Jubilate Pieter asked the tour operators to include Sumba in offers made to international buyers. He promised to improve the tourism facilities in Sumba and to develop the island in a selective manner.