Jakarta – A new, increased fee to visit Komodo and Padar islands in Komodo National Park, East Nusa Tenggara, has become effective on Monday, along with a government-imposed limit for the island's visits of 200,000 people per year.
The new fee and visitors cap is part of the government's effort to limit the destruction mass tourism could bring upon the prehistoric komodo dragon's only natural habitat. Yet, how the government implements the new measures leave much to be desired, with opposition growing among local hospitality business operators.
According to a report from Antara news service, Hospitality business operators in Labuan Bajo, the coastal town serving as a gate to the national park islands, has begun their month-long strike on Monday in protest of the new government policy.
Under the new rule, a visitor must pay Rp 3.75 million ($250) per year to visit Komodo Island, one of the largest islands with the dragon in the national park, and Padar Island, famous for its scenic hills and pink-colored beach. The new fees also apply to water-sport activities, like diving or snorkeling, within the national park border.
The new fee is 25 times more expensive than the previous one of Rp 150,000 per visit. Today, paying the old fee would only get a visitor a trip to Rinca Island, which is also the home of the komodo dragon but arguably has less-scenic hills and beaches.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo gave the government's rationale for the new policy in a statement broadcasted Presidential Secretariat's YouTube channel on July 21.
"We want conservation, but we also want [to increase] the economy through tourism, through tourist visits. These two must be balanced," Jokowi said.
The government decided to do that by tightening conservation efforts in Komodo and Padar islands and leaving Rinca to serve the mass tourism market, Jokowi said.
"So, if you want to see Komodo dragons, please go to Rinca Island. There are Komodo dragons as well. How much does it cost? The same," he said.
"If you say, 'Wait, I really want to see the ones on Komodo Island,' that's okay too. But, you need to pay a different fee."
Strike or else
Hospitality business operators in Labuan Bajo have agreed to halt their services for a month.
"We have agreed to stop all types of tourism services in the National Park Islands and all tourist destinations in West Manggarai from Aug 1-31, 2022," Rafael Taher, the Coordinator of West Manggarai's Tourism Service Providers, said on Saturday.
Under the agreement, owners of tour guides, boats, rent cars and motorcycles, hotels, restaurants, food stalls, or even photography services must shut down during the strike period. They must be willing to let their properties burn down if they violate the agreement.
Rafael said tourists coming to Labuan Bajo during the protest should expect disruption in their trips. "We do not prohibit tourists from coming. But, we apologize if they have arrived in Labuan Bajo, no one will pick them up," he said.
The East Nusa Tenggara Regional Police said on Sunday that it had sent additional personnel to Labuan Bajo to ensure order in the coastal town during the strike period.
"The Regional Police have sent additional members to create a sense of security for the public and tourists who travel to several tourist areas in Labuan Bajo," the region's police chief, Insp. Gen. Setyo Budiyanto, said.
Sony Zeth Libing, the head of the East Nusa Tenggara Provincial Tourism Office, said the government was sticking to its plan to increase the national park entrance fee.
"The East Nusa Tenggara Provincial Government appreciates the aspirations of the people who reject the increase in entrance tickets of Rp. 3.75 million to Komodo Island and Padar Island," Sony said.
"We are reviewing all these aspirations, but of course, the application of new tariffs for entry to Komodo will still be carried out on Aug 1 because it has already passed thorough study," he said.
"We have to anticipate [damage to ecosystem] early before a wider problem occurs in the Komodo habitat and its ecosystem," Sony said.