The growth of Indonesia’s tourist industry is the ninth-fastest in the world and the third-fastest in Asia. Indonesia’s tourist industry is also the fastest-growing in ASEAN, representing 5.25 percent of gross domestic product and responsible for 12.7 million jobs.
Foreign tourist arrivals reached an estimated 15.8 million last year, 12.6 percent higher than the 2017 mark. As of August 2019, a total of 10.87 million foreigners have visited Indonesia, up 2.67 percent year-on-year.
With enormous cultural and natural diversity and hundreds of destinations across the sprawling archipelago from Aceh to Papua, tourism is expected to play a key role in addressing the multidimensional developmental challenges facing the country.
The statistics above, therefore, do not represent the whole potential of the Indonesian tourist industry, as 90 percent of visitors were split between Bali (40 percent), Jakarta (30 percent) and the Riau Islands (20 percent).
On Oct. 16 to 17, I participated in the World Tourism Organization meeting in Guangzhou, China, representing Indonesia’s Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry. We introduced the “Ten New Balis” policy and highlighted Indonesia’s diverse tourist attractions and destinations.
The international meeting explored the strategic links between wildlife-based sustainable tourism, with its multi-pronged efforts, and the risks and opportunities associated with Asia Pacific and Africa especially.
To expand the tourist industry to the next level, a country like Indonesia needs more than just an increase in tourist arrivals. Attracting high-quality tourism with direct impacts on local economy development also matters.
Learning from Bali is imperative, but we also need a paradigm shift. This means boosting tourism’s contribution to the conservation of Indonesia’s wildlife and its verdant biodiversity, with more than 70 endemic animals and various plants species living throughout magnificent landscapes and ecosystems.
The directorate general of Nature Resources and Ecosystem Conservation at the Environment and Forestry Ministry is managing 552 conservation areas covering more than 27 million hectares.
They include six World Heritage sites listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 11 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve areas, seven sustainable wetland sites under the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and six ASEAN Heritage Parks.
A total of 6,381 villages in Indonesia, each with unique traditions and ethnicities, are situated around the country’s conservation areas.
The fundamental question is how to engage local communities and the private sector to comanage the areas, especially since Sumatran elephants and Sumatran tigers are roaming beyond their conservation areas, including inside land belonging to local communities or managed by private companies.
A recent study by Aceh’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) using GPS collars attached to seven groups of wild elephants in the province showed that more than 50 percent the animals’ home ranges are outside forest boundaries. Greater roles and responsibilities given to local communities and concessionaires are sine qua non to ensure coexistence.
To put it in context, 60 percent of Aceh’s terrestrial area is covered by forest. This is the only place on earth where the four emblematic species of Sumatra — the elephant, tiger, orangutan and Sumatran rhino — roam together. The human communities living on the edge of the forest are among the most remote, with minimal access to basic services.
Sustainable tourism can potentially work as a solution not only to poverty but also to wildlife conservation, as in the case of the community in Tangkahan, North Sumatra, an area adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park.
Many local communities in Sumatra are enduring a human-wildlife conflict. Often, this tension triggers retaliation by the locals. The communities are struggling to understand why protecting wildlife will improve their livelihood.
As long as the communities do not see the benefits of coexistence with wildlife, it is unrealistic to expect their participation in protecting and conserving it.
To go beyond “10 New Balis”, local communities near conservation areas must be actively involved in their management with support from the private sector and government. Such a scheme is challenging due to the acute lack of intergovernmental coordination with players in various sectors.
Nature Resources and Ecosystem Conservation Director General Wiratno has proposed a joint taskforce involving various ministries to revamp and harmonize regulatory frameworks in order to guarantee the coextensiveness of local economic development and wildlife conservation, bridged by sustainable tourism.
Such a joint taskforce has been initiated and will be expanded to include key people from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry, the Education and Culture Ministry and the Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Ministry.
In the initial stage, the taskforce will give priority to five national parks, comprising Gunung Leuser National Park, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java, Danau Sentarum National Park and Betung Kerihun National Park, both in West Kalimantan, Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara and Teluk Cendrawasih National Park in West Papua province.
Komodo National Park has taught us the lesson that the better we conserve nature, the more it will provide prosperity to the local people and region. In 2018, about 176,000 tourists from 104 countries visited the park, generating Rp 33 billion (US$2.34 million) in nontax state income. The economic turnover in the city of Labuan Bajo, the main entrance for tourists, reached Rp 458 billion.
The rise in tourist arrivals has also increased the number of star hotels in Labuan Bajo, as well as boat operators, interpreters, and other tourism-related industries. However, the development of Komodo National Park as one of the “10 New Balis” must involve more local communities.
Chairman of the Aceh Center for Wildlife Studies and inventor of the Conservation Response Unit concept, which has been adopted by provincial administrations in Sumatra to care for elephant populations.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.