Ryan Dagur – Residents on Indonesia's Catholic majority island of Flores are up against a government move that allegedly aims to commercialize and establish a monopoly in the growing tourism business in the protected area of Komodo National Park.
They are also protesting the decision to make available entrance tickets to the park through an online application controlled by the provincial government company, PT Flobamora.
The ticket prices also have been raised to US$250 per person, both for domestic and international tourists, from the current US$10 per ticket, available through local tour agents and guides.
Nearly 1,000 locals staged a protest against the new policies at Labuan Bajo, the capital of West Manggarai district in East Nusa Tenggara province, on July 18.
Some Catholics took to social media to express their disappointment with Father Laurens Sopang, the parish priest of the Holy Spirit Parish in Labuan Bajo, calling the policy a "new virus" for tourism in a Facebook post.
"Due to the increase in ticket fee, many domestic and foreign tourists have canceled visits to Labuan Bajo," he wrote.
In a statement, Zet Sony Libing, the province's head of tourism and creative economy, confirmed that the policy is in fact aimed at limiting the number of tourists visiting the area in order to preserve the Komodo dragon, the famed heaviest lizard on Earth found in Indonesian islands.
But protesters maintain that this would be detrimental to locals who make a living in the tourism sector.
Rafael Todowela, the coordinator of the West Manggarai Tourism Rescue Society Forum, said the handing over of ticket sales to a single company would benefit big business while killing the livelihoods of innumerable people involved in small and medium-sized businesses.
"This is a form of policy that seeks to commercialize and monopolize the tourism business around the park," he alleged.
Doni Parera, a local tour guide, said the steep rise in ticket prices would prove detrimental to the local economy, which was on the recovery path after the Covid-19 pandemic.
He further questioned the official claim of making more sustainable the world-famous tourist area that comprises a total of 29 volcanic islands and is home to approximately 2,500 Komodo dragons and other terrestrial fauna.
"In fact, the large-scale infrastructure development, including hotels and resorts, planned by the state and private companies will cause massive destruction of the ecosystem in the park," he said.
The once small fishing village of Labuan Bajo, located at the western end of the large island of Flores, serves as a gateway to the Komodo National Park and is being prioritized by the government for the development of tourism infrastructure.