It took two-and-half hours to drive from Praya International Airport in Central Lombok to Tanjung, the capital of North Lombok regency on Lombok Island, West Nusa Tenggara.
In the morning, the beauty of the regency popped up everywhere from the white-sand of Medana Beach overlooking the three famous isles — Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan — to the sea of coconut trees.
“These are just small parts of our precious natural assets,” said Djohan Syamsyu, the regent of North Lombok, during a meeting last week.
In conjunction with the fourth anniversary of North Lombok regency, which will fall on July 21, the regent, his staff and prominent people from business sector talked to The Jakarta Post about the huge potential and challenges facing the regency.
Established in 2008, North Lombok regency was previously part of West Lombok regency. “We had proposed to separate North and West Lombok and to establish a new regency for several years. The idea was approved four years ago,” the regent said.
The 809.53 square-kilometer North Lombok has an estimated population of 213,422, most of which is mostly from the indigenous Sasak ethnic group, according to a national census conducted by the Central Statistic Agency (BPS) in 2010.
The regency has five districts, 33 villages and 322 hamlets. It has a 900-square-kilometer marine area and a 125 kilometer-long coastal line.
“Geographically, North Lombok is strategically located between Australia, Lombok Island and other countries in Asia Pacific,” the regent said.
Tourism and agriculture have become major income generators for the regency. North Lombok is home to the Rinjani Volcano, Segara Anakan Lake, three Gili Isles and numerous waterfalls.
“If you come to Lombok Island, this [North Lombok] is the safest place with a low crime rate and low incidences of other security issues such as intervillage conflicts,” the regent explained.
Bad rumors about security issues that have spread fast among domestic and international travel agencies have prevented visitors from coming to Lombok Island.
Rudynald A Baihaqi, general manager of the five-star diamond Oberoi Lombok, admitted that the regency was like a “Sleeping Giant” that had yet to explore its huge potential.
“Wealthy tourists mostly like staying in a quiet, isolated place like North Lombok and they feel so secure here,” Rudy said.
The regency welcomed 337,646 domestic and foreign tourists in 2011. “The majority of foreigners came from European countries such as the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Germany and France. Tourists from Australia, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore have started to eye North Lombok as an alternative holiday destination,” Rudy added.
Many hotels also received guests from the US, Mexico, Argentina and other Latin American countries.
Rudy added that most European tourists stayed an average of 14 days, spending hundreds of US dollars on hotel rooms, food and beverages.
“They [the Europeans] are recession-free travelers who never count their spending,” he said.
Young adventurous travelers preferred to stay at affordable homestays and small-scale hotels on the three Gili Isles, where they can do various water sports, snorkeling and diving amid crystal-clear beaches.
As of June 2012, there are 370 non-star and star hotels, villas and homestays and 202 restaurants and cafes catering to local and international visitors.
Regent Djohan, however, admitted that access to North Lombok was still very limited. “We need more domestic flights linking Lombok and other cities in Indonesia,” he said.
Bridges connecting North Lombok and other parts of the island remain vital for the regency to attract more tourists.
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