The Jakarta Post
With a two-day visit to the Lake Toba region in North Sumatra, which some people envision as the Monaco of Asia, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has demonstrated his commitment to develop the region into a major tourism magnet.
Jokowi said that although Lake Toba had immense potential and was internationally renowned, its image had declined in recent years and fresh efforts were needed to develop ecotourism in the region to capitalize on Lake Toba’s breathtaking natural beauty.
The development of Lake Toba as a travel destination would not harm the local culture and would instead strengthen its unique character, Jokowi said on Sunday in his inaugural speech at the 2016 Wonderful Lake Toba Independence Carnival in Balige, the capital city of Toba Samosir regency.
“It is home to the Batak Simalungun, Toba, Pakpak, Mandailing, Karo and Angkola ethnic communities. It is the differences that unite us. I am glad that today all members of the community wear the traditional ulos scarf,” said Jokowi.
The carnival commenced with leaders of the communities joining Jokowi in beating the traditional
Throughout the event, Jokowi wore the Ragidup Sirara ulos, usually reserved for honorable men, or kings, while First Lady Iriana donned the Tum-Tumon ulos, a rare Batak ulos motif commonly used by the womenfolk.
The carnival involved participants from 26 provinces, North Sumatra’s 26 regencies and municipalities as well as a number of government ministers.
It was launched on a floating stage hosting a number of events, including a folk music performance and a culinary festival. Other stages were erected in Parapat, Simalungun regency, and in Balige.
Jokowi praised the carnival for demonstrating unity in diversity among the Batak community, representing the different characters and identities of the nation.
The President said he expected the carnival to continue as an annual event in North Sumatra.
Jokowi’s presence in the land of the Batak people was greeted with joy by thousands of residents around Lake Toba, especially those living on the Samosir Island, located in the middle of Lake Toba, who saw their dream come true as the country’s president set foot on the island.
“Jokowi is the first president to visit Samosir after we waited for 71 years. We are very pleased, as our dream has come true,” said Samosir Regent Rapidin Simbolon, representing his community to welcome Jokowi in the tourist village of Tomok on Sunday.
Jokowi’s visit to Tomok was one of several activities he carried out during the two-day visit to Lake Toba, including planting trees in Toba Samosir and Samosir regencies, holding a dialogue with the local people and also joining the Independence Day Carnival in Balige.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said the Wonderful Lake Toba Independence Carnival was part of Jokowi’s commitment to develop Lake Toba. “The carnival is aimed at helping to boost tourism in the Lake Toba region in the future.”
Arief added that the Tourism Ministry expected to attract 1 million tourists to the Lake Toba region by 2019. The plan could fail if the government failed to build infrastructure to support tourism.
“Accessibility is our weakness. We will continue to improve flights and highway access to Lake Toba,” said Arief.
He said other plans included the establishment of the Lake Toba Authority Board, which had won approval from Jokowi.
Besides the Lake Toba visit, Jokowi initiated his visit to North Sumatra by visiting Nias Island on Friday, where he joined the groundbreaking ceremony for a 70-kilovolt extra-high voltage power line project stretching 110 km from Idanoi to Teluk Dalam on Nias Island.
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