DestinationsAs the vast domestic market props up recovery of Indonesia's tourism industry, how is development playing out in the five destinations?

Trials and triumphs of Indonesia's super-priority destinations

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Since reopening to the domestic market since June, Lake Toba Tourism Authority Agency has channelled resources into the many outdoor activities the cooler mountainous region has to offer.
Since reopening to the domestic market since June, Lake Toba Tourism Authority Agency has channelled resources into the many outdoor activities the cooler mountainous region has to offer. Photo Credit: Julia Winterflood

Indonesia’s Tourism Ministry announced five “super priority” destinations in January this year, following on from its 2019 plan to create “ten new Balis”.

The super priority destinations are Lake Toba in North Sumatra, the world’s largest volcanic crater lake; Borobudur in Central Java, the world’s biggest Buddhist temple; Labuan Bajo in West Flores, the gateway to Komodo National Park; Mandalika in Central Lombok, a coastal resort area and special economic zone; and Likupang in North Sulawesi, a 200 hectare stretch of white sandy beaches. 

While the first three are relatively well-known to travel agents and domestic travellers, the last two are comparatively less so. As Indonesia’s tourism industry takes its first steps on the road to recovery, and its vast domestic market enters the spotlight, how is development playing out in the five destinations?

After reopening for domestic arrivals in June, the Lake Toba Tourism Authority Agency has channelled resources into the many outdoor activities the cooler mountainous region has to offer, such as cycling, climbing, kayaking and camping. Lake Toba has enormous potential for adventure tourism, according to the Agency’s director Arie Prasetyo.

These efforts have paid off as hotel occupancy rates approached 80% in August, reported Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association’s North Sumatra chapter chair Deni S Wardhana. “On weekends and religious holidays it is difficult to find a room,” he told local daily newspaper Suara Pembaruan.

Among the five super priority destinations Borobudur is best known internationally, as the 9th-century Buddhist temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. To standardise infrastructure development and environmental strategies, the central government and regional agencies are formulating a master plan connecting Borobudur with the Special Region of Yogyakarta, a city rich in Javanese culture, and Prambanan, a 9th-century Hindu temple complex.

Infrastructure development in Labuan Bajo, however, is not going as smoothly. A ‘Jurassic Park-style’ tourist centre proposed for neighbouring Rinca island – which along with Komodo island is home to the world’s largest lizard – has been rejected by a group of local tourism members and conservationists on environmental grounds.

"Development such as this taints the [central government’s] grand design of tourism development and is detrimental to us as tourism stakeholders and [local] people,” the group’s head, Venan Haryanto, recently told Indonesian current affairs magazine Tempo.

Similarly in Mandalika, Lombok, the first development phase of a Grand Prix motorway has sparked a dispute with local residents claiming land ownership.

In Likupang, the primary focus is a new four-lane road connecting it with Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, which is expected to be completed by 2021. “Without the support of community leaders, academics, business stakeholders, the media, all levels of local government, and especially the people around the project location, it could not have moved as fast as it has,” said provincial governor Olly Dondokambey.

President Joko Widodo recently revealed that around 14.4 trillion rupiah (US$979 million) of the 2021 state budget will be allocated to the priority destinations as part of Indonesia’s economic recovery.

However, Irfan Setiaputra, president director of national carrier Garuda Indonesia, has recommended that the government focus on just two tourism destinations, with Bali being one of them. “If our attention is spread out to 10 destinations, we will not receive many tourists [due to the lack of focus],” he said during a recent webinar held by the Indonesia National Air Carriers Association.

He also emphasised that health protocols should not be sidelined in order to expedite tourism recovery. Tourism minister Wishnutama Kusubandio has previously stated that regaining traveller trust is key to the industry’s recovery.

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