Jakarta (ANTARA News) - As a controversy drags on about a plan of the East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) governor to close Komodo Island for a year, Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has finally voiced his objection and considered it irrelevant.
Komodo Island is one of the major islands inside the Komodo National Park, located in proximity to Labuan Bajo, one of the 10 priority tourist destinations designated by the Government as "New Bali."
The nine other destinations are Borobudur in Central Java; Mandalika on Lombok Island, West Nusa Tenggara; Bromo-Tengger-Semeru in East Java; Pulau Seribu in North Jakarta; Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Wakatobi in Southeast Sulawesi; Tanjung Lesung in Banten; Morotai in the northern region of Halmahera in the Maluku Islands; and Tanjung Kelayang in Belitung, Bangka Belitung.
Both Komodo Island and Labuan Bajo are located in West Manggarai District on Flores Island, and they are the backbone of the tourism industry of NTT, in particular, and Indonesia, in general.
Hence, Tourism Minister Arief Yahya opined that a plan to close Komodo Island would be irrelevant to the tourism industry.
"It is not relevant, as Vice President JK (Jusuf Kalla) has said," Yahya stated in response to the press` questions on January 30, 2019.
Kalla, in Jakarta recently, expressed his objection to the planned closure of Komodo Island and called for a detailed and comprehensive study of the plan.
The tourism industry is in urgent need of certainty to run the business, so any issue on the closure of a tourism destination will directly affect the performance of the tourism sector.
Travel agents and operators are looking for certainty without which they would not dare to advertise or offer their services, Yahya noted.
Plans to close Komodo Island and drastically increase the ticket fare would have major impacts on the survival of the tourism industry in the region, he remarked.
He also believes that travel operators would encounter difficulties in selling tour packages of Komodo National Park if its entry ticket fare were to be increased, from currently around US$10 to US$500 per tourist.
"Than what will happen, the industry would cease," he noted, referring to another plan of the NTT governor to increase the ticket fare of the Komodo National Park.
NTT Governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat earlier explained that his plan to raise the entry ticket fare to the park to US$500 per foreign tourist was aimed at conservation purposes and boosting revenue for the local government.
"$500 is a donation for the development of the world ecosystem," the governor stated recently.
The closure will only be applicable for Komodo Island. Tourists can still visit Rinca Island, Padar Island, and others, he noted.
Tourists will only be allowed to tour around Komodo Island by boat, but they will not be allowed to land on the island, Laiskodat clarified.
Minister Yahya argued that there is no problem with environmental preservation and conservation plans, but business certainty is a must.
Hence, the minister will ensure that Komodo Island would not be closed, as it comes under the authority of the Central Government.
Yahya said he had received an invitation from the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry and the NTT Provincial Administration for a meeting to discuss several issues on the Komodo National Park.
The Komodo National Park must remain an Indonesian tourism asset without sacrificing the environmental aspect, he stated.
The park, comprising the three larger islands of Komodo, Padar, and Rinca, as well as 26 smaller ones, was founded in 1980 to protect the Komodo dragon (Veranus Komodoensis), the world`s only surviving giant lizard.
In 1977, Komodo National Park was named a biosphere reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and in 1991, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2012, it was listed as the New7Wonders of Nature sites.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Indonesian Tourist Guide Association (HPI) chapter in NTT Mesakh Takoy suggested placing a restriction on the number of tourists visiting the park, as a solution for the conservation of the fauna and flora existing in the park.
"In my opinion, Komodo Island must not be closed, but the number of tourists to Komodo Island must be limited," Takoy stated.
He cited as an example that the number of visitors to the park could be decreased, from 100 tourists per day to 50.
Komodo is the icon of NTT, so if tourists heard about a plan to close Komodo Island, they would go to other regions, instead of NTT, he pointed out.
The Komodo National Park recorded revenue amounting to Rp32 billion from tourist visits to the park during 2018, an increase from Rp29 billion in the previous year.
A total of 176,830 tourists, comprising 121,409 foreigners and 55,421 Indonesians, had visited the Komodo National Park last year, a surge from 119,599 visitors in 2017.