A number of Indonesian tour operators have questioned the fairness of the new online booking system introduced by the Komodo National Park (TNK) earlier this month.
The online platform, booking.labuanbajoflores.id, requires users to choose from a selection of 197 tour operators listed on the website during the reservation process, according to Evodius Konsomar, head of the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (ASITA) West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) chapter.
This has created the impression that TNK is taking a cut from these travel companies, he said, questioning the transparency in the appointment process of the listed operators.
TNK, which has three terrestrial tourism sites, namely Padar, Loh Liang and Loh Buaya, has capped entry to 25 visitors per site per day after it kicked off the first phase of reopening on July 6.
This quota also drew outrage from travel companies, he said, as the number was considered too paltry for the UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning 239,000ha.
Evodius also criticised park authorities for the ambiguity around how the 75 entrance tickets across the three sites would be fairly distributed among travel companies. “We will keep on protesting until there is clarity (around that issue), otherwise it creates unfairness,” he said.
Responding to the allegations, TNK head Lukita Awang, said that the online booking system had been agreed by TNK, Labuan Bajo Flores Tourism Authority (BOLB), and West Manggarai Tourism Agency, in a bid to track integrated data about the number of tourists across the province.
With regards to the capacity caps, he highlighted that TNK is a conservation area, and not “an ordinary tourist attraction”. Hence, the restriction on visitor numbers is designed to prevent overcrowding and damaging the ecosystem.
Lukita explained that the 25-person capacity limit at each site is based on a study carried out by the park to determine the ideal carrying capacity for the first phase of reopening. As such, this cap is set to be revised down the road, depending on the study results.
According to Lukita, TNK has curated the list of 197 tour operators on its online booking system, and verified their legitimacies, so as to ensure tourists’ safety and comfort, and protect them from fraudulent agents.
Incito Vacations owner Ng Sebastian said the park has no authority to dictate visitors’ choice of travel companies. “Their duty is to protect the Komodo dragons and visitors. How visitors get to the park is not their business,” he said.
Ng also said that the curated list of tour operators on TNK’s website was problematic because it included dive operators, and some travel companies were mentioned more than once.
Though acknowledging the importance of limiting visitor numbers to maintain physical distancing amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he opined that TNK needed to publicly disclose the carrying capacity study that it did to determine the quota.
Ng also said that the website was lacking in a feature that would display a real-time availability of entrance tickets. “The park also needs to give the exact cut-off date for the ticket purchasing period,” he added.