Local trade faces uncertainty amid rumours of Komodo National Park closure

Padar Island in Komodo National Park

Komodo National Park, currently under assessment due to ecological concerns, may soon be closed, a move that could potentially affect a large part of the local economy including tourism businesses.

The East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) provincial governor is proposing to close Komodo National Park to visitors for a year. Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat reportedly said the closure was needed to protect against the extinction of the Komodo dragons, which have dwindled in numbers and suffered from the lack of preys within the park.

Padar Island in Komodo National Park

Viktor was quoted by local media as saying that the NTT government intends to make the necessary arrangements to set things right at the park so the Komodo population and natural habitat can recover and grow.

According to a statement issued by the Indonesia Ministry of Tourism, there is a conservation fund of 100 billion rupiah (US$6,897) for the park, part of a regional budget allotted to cultivating livestock such as ox, deer, lamb and pigs, which Komodo dragons feed on.

While awaiting decision by the relevant authorities, the travel trade is now put in the spot without concrete information on the park’s closure.

Abed Frans, NTT chapter chairman of the Association of the Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (ASITA), told TTG Asia that he is not opposed to closure for conservation purposes, but the travel trade was bemoaning the lack of details on the drastic decision, which will heavily impact travel businesses and the NTT economy.

Abed said: “This announcement is too sudden. There were no discussions with associations, travel trade, or the community. This is a confusing one-sided decision. Surely, we need details – like when the plan will be implemented and what programmes the government will do to reorganise the Park – because 70 per cent of the community livelihood relies on the national park. ”

Abed further confided that he had been receiving queries from ASITA members, clients and and guests, but was unable to provide the answers.

Similarly, Emil Bei, director of Flores Trail Wisata, said he received many questions from business partners seeking clarification and certainty. A cruise operator in Europe, with whom Flores Trail Wisata had a prior agreement to do nine cruise calls until June, had became hesitant about calling at Labuan Bajo following the rumours.

“Questions such as when the Komodo National Park will be closed and for how long are hanging over our heads,” he said. “Stakeholders should be made aware of the details of the plan as they have to manage bookings that will be displaced during the period.”

Meanwhile, Sebastian Ng, managing director of Incito Vacations, believes that the Komodo National Park will not be closed anytime soon. “(The authorities) need to do some studies and research before making such a decision. Moreover, Komodo National Park is one of the priority tourism destinations for the central government.

“It is our job to tell clients and guests that it is just a rumour,” he said, adding that the closure is not official until confirmed by the relevant authorities.

Quoting Siti Nurbaya, Minister of Environment and Forestry, Antara News Agency said there are plans to hold a meeting with the East Nusa Tenggara government this week.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry will request an explanation from the NTT Government regarding the closure plan.

“We will listen to what the regional government wants, then hear from the Ministry of Tourism, as well as from the Ministry of Forestry itself and continue to see what the transition period looks like and how to (go about doing it). There are ways,” she said.

She further shared that the director general of Natural Resources Conservation and Ecosystems will study the legal aspects.

NTT Regional Tourism Office reposted figures that show visitor arrivals to Komodo National Park in 2018 totalled 176,830, of which 69 per cent were international. The number was up 48 per cent over 2017.

In line with the rapid arrivals growth, the park’s revenue increased from 29 billion rupiah in 2017 to 32 billion rupiah last year.

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