The Jakarta Post
The Riau Islands are set to have two new airports next year as part of a provincial administration plan to boost the local economy by bringing in more tourists.
The new airports will be located in the Anambas Islands and also in Natuna Regency, both in Riau Islands province.
'Actually the biggest problem for Anambas Islands and Natuna is accessibility. Once that is solved, investors will come to develop the sites. God willing, the two airports will both be completed next year, one on each island,' the province's tourism office head Guntur Sakti said on Sunday.
Currently, visitors to Anambas have to land on an airport belonging to the oil and gas company ConocoPhillips while those visiting Natuna land on an airbase belonging to the Indonesian Air Force.
According to some potential investors, the military procedure for entry permits had confused them and they had subsequently had to pay additional costs to bring materials through the airport.
Meanwhile, accessing the islands by vessel has been seen as a less effective transportation method because of strong seasonal winds.
The Anambas Islands and Natuna are isolated island groups located around 200-300 miles from the provincial capital Tanjung Pinang, Bintan Island. To reach the Anambas Islands or Natuna by ship takes more than seven hours or only one to two hours by plane from Tanjung Pinang, according to Guntur.
Anambas was named one of the five top island paradises in Asia by CNN in 2012. Similar to the Anambas Islands, Natuna Regency comprises hundreds of isolated white sand islands and attracts tourists who come for beach and ocean-based activities such as canoeing, snorkeling, beach volleyball and coastal culture.
Due to access difficulty, the two areas, are less visited compared to other attractions such as Batam Island, Bintan Island and Karimun Island which all boast better infrastructure.
Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that Batam, Bintan, Karimun and Tanjung Pinang are the dominant destinations in the province with 1.1 million; 230,000; 71,000; and 66,000 foreign tourists having visited during September this year, respectively. Data for the Anambas Islands and Natuna is not available.
Since Batam is the most visited island, to boost the total number of visitors, the local tourism agency aims to make it a distribution point.
'We are currently renovating Batam's Talaga Punggul Port, one of Bintan's main ports. There will also be one additional airport built in Bintan next year,' Guntur said.
Talaga Punggul Port currently features only a narrow entry way for vehicles and ferries will often transport passengers beyond their capacity during high season.
The renovation is projected to be complete by 2017, prior to the next renovation project taking place at Batam's Sekupang Port.
Bintan, meanwhile, will have its first airport in 2017. In mid-2012, PT Bintan Resort Cakrawala, developer of the Lagoi tourism region, commenced building the airport in Busung, Bintan. At a cost of US$100 million, the airport is expected to see the number of tourists to the island increase two-fold.
Batam, Bintan and Karimun are home to hundreds of premium resorts and shopping establishments, for the most part due to marine tourism and accessibility from Singapore.
However, criticism has been voiced regarding sites not under the management of private investors, with many people claiming that they are not well taken care of. Others complain that soil damage due to past instances of illegal bauxite mining need to be fixed in order to give the island a greener look from above Batam's Hang Nadim airport.
'There are beaches with potential for tourism in Batam but this is not managed well enough to accommodate for the local visitors, they are often over-crowded and not comfortable for foreign tourists to visit,' said Andika, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies' (ASITA)_Riau chapter on Sunday.
By September, Riau Islands had seen 1.5 million foreign tourists, a drop from 1.9 in the same month last year, due to the recent haze crisis. The central government target expects the province to bring a figure of 2.5 million this year and 4 million by 2019, in order to help the country's overall annual visitor target of 20 million tourists.
Most, or 51.8 percent, of total foreign tourist arrivals to Riau Islands come from Singapore while 13.4 arrive from Malaysia. At present, the main purposes for visiting include shopping, sightseeing, health and beauty, visiting friends and eating. (rbk)
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