The Jakarta Post
Tour operators around East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) have opposed the provincial administration’s plan to temporarily close Komodo National Park to visitors.
The chairman of the West Manggarai chapter of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA West Manggarai), Donatur Matur, said the association, as well as tour operators around the province, firmly rejected the government’s plan to temporarily close the national park for improvements.
“A leader should think about what he says in public. Although it’s still being discussed, the media has already circulated this information,” Donatur told The Jakarta Post on Friday, referring to the statement made by NTT Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat announcing the closure plan.
The governor said the intended temporary closure was aimed at renovating park facilities and to boost the population of Komodo dragons and deer as well as improving the animals’ habitat.
According to Donatur, the announcement led to many tourists canceling their visits to the national park this year.
He also explained that the association was concerned about Viktor’s points regarding NTT’s tourism sector, such as a ban on budget hotel construction.
“I hope the governor will come to Labuan Bajo to discuss his plan with tour operators as well as the public and the Manggarai regency administration itself. The governor should hear what we have to say before arranging such plans,” Donatur said.
Concurring with Donatur’s concerns, West Manggarai Regent Agustinus Ch Dulla also said that he hoped the governor could coordinate with the regional administration before implementing his plans.
“We have to admit that the governor has good intentions. However, it would be better if he also invited the regional administration to discuss the matter,” he said.
Viktor said the park’s closure would last for a year.
“Our administration will make arrangements for the Komodo National Park,” he said as quoted by tempo.co on Friday. However, Viktor did not announce when the shutdown would start.
Located between Sumbawa and Flores islands, Komodo National Park is home to approximately 2,762 Komodo dragons as well as 3,900 deer. The park, an official UNESCO World Heritage, is also a popular destination for tourists, especially from overseas. The ministry recorded a significant increase in international tourists from 125,069 in 2017 to 159,217 in 2018.
The influx has triggered a number of environmental problems, including fires, that have affected the park’s landscape, prompting the NTT administration to consider some options as a solution.
Prior to the announcement, Viktor said that his administration would forbid the construction of budget hotels in Labuan Bajo, West Manggarai, arguing that budget hotels would hamper the growth of existing local businesses that provide accommodation.
The administration was also reportedly planning to raise the Komodo National Park’s entrance fee to at least US$500 as part of efforts to boost the conservation area’s “prestige”.
Responding to the planned closure, the Environment and Forestry Ministry asked the governor to reconsider his plan as it could significantly affect the community’s tourist economy.
“Speaking of the Komodo National Park, the governor needs to draft a thorough plan as it could significantly affect the area’s social and economic conditions,” said the ministry’s director general of natural resources and ecosystem conservation, Wiratno, in a written statement received by the Post on Saturday.
In the statement, he added that it was possible to close down a national park for a variety of reasons such as scientific projects or natural disasters like a volcanic eruption, extreme weather or habitat disruption.