Ryan Dagur – The Catholic Church joined tourist operators in Indonesia's Catholic-majority Flores Island to welcome a government decision to revoke a drastic increase in ticket prices to enter the famed Komodo national park.
The decision came months after tourism operators on the island protested the hike calling it unfair to the local community and businesses.
The Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Sandiaga Salahudin Uno said on Dec. 14 that the hike scheduled to take effect on Komodo Island, Padar Island and the surrounding waters on Jan. 1 next year had been revoked.
"[The hike] was withdrawn, it has been canceled," he told reporters in Jakarta.
Under this policy, ticket prices were hiked from the current US$10 per person to US$250, both for domestic and international tourists. The entry tickets would be available only through an online application controlled by the provincial state company, PT Flobamora.
Ruteng Catholic Diocese in Flores, which also opposed the price hike of tickets, hailed the government's change of mind.
The hike came when the Diocese has been campaigning for "holistic tourism" to help make it participatory, cultured and sustainable, said Father Marthen Jenarut, chairman of the Diocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission.
Such a tourism program "can benefit many people, especially people at the grassroots, such as small tourism actors," in the Catholic-majority area, said Father Jenarut.
"This drastic ticket increase will have an adverse impact on small tourism operators, who have been protesting... Therefore, we appreciate the government's efforts to cancel this hike," the priest said.
Initially, the hike was intended to be implemented on Aug. 1 but was canceled following a strike by tour operators and those working in the tourism industry.
Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng also sent a letter to President Joko Widodo to review the policy.
Minister Uno claims this decision is good news for all the tourism industry and creative economy players.
"This shows the government's alignment with the rise of tourism and when people have just recovered from the pandemic, this decision is certainly a breath of fresh air," he said.
Father Jenarut said the decision needs to be appreciated because it shows "openness and responsiveness to the critical attitude of the community towards the policy."
He said the diocese opposed the hike as it was "too expensive, especially for domestic tourists." "There is concern that the high price will move tourists away," he said.
Doni Parera, a local activist, said that although he was grateful for Minister Uno's statement, "a lot of our energy has been spent months debating things that are really unnecessary and only trigger problems."
He told UCA News this case should serve as a lesson for the government so that in making policies it must involve all parties, not using a top-down pattern.
"Don't also use brutal methods by forcing your will and then putting pressure on those who are protesting," he said alluding to the repressive actions of the police against tour operators who opposed the policy.
Leo Embo, a tour guide said, "this is good news, but not strong enough."
He said that Minister Uno's statement must be conveyed to all media "so that it can become the basis for tour operators or local travel agents in Labuan Bajo to convince tourists that there will be no increase in ticket prices."
Venansius Haryanto, a researcher at Labuan Bajo-based NGO Sunspirit for Justice and Peace said he hoped "that this is a final decision from the government" and that there would be no further changes afterward that would confuse the public.
"It's enough to take careless policies, lack of coordination which then have a bad impact on the wider public," he said.
The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous as the natural habitat of giant lizards known as "Komodo dragons." It covers three islands – Komodo, Padar, and Rinca – where rugged hillsides, thorny green vegetation, white sandy beaches, and the blue waters swelling over corals are among the major tourist attractions.
This area is part of the super-priority tourist destinations developed by the central government in recent years.