Priests from Ruteng Diocese join activists and students at a rally in 2015 in Labuan Bajo, West Manggarai district, demanding the government end the privatization of beaches for hotels. Bishop Silvester San, the Apostolic Administrator of Ruteng Diocese, urged authorities not to apply so-called 'halal tourism' in the area on May 6. (Photo supplied)
The Catholic Church on the Indonesian island of Flores, gateway to Komodo National Park and its world famous Komodo dragons, has rejected the idea of introducing "halal tourism," a growing trend among Muslims.
Authorities in Labuan Bajo, a fishing town on the western side of Flores in Nusa Tenggara, suggested the idea as a way of boosting tourism but the bishop who covers that jurisdiction shot it down in a letter dated May 6.
"Tourism must be based on local culture and traditions, and in harmony with the preservation of nature and the integrity of creation," wrote Bishop Silvester San, the apostolic administrator of Ruteng Diocese, in his missive to the director of the Labuan Bajo Tourism Authority.
He said it would be a mistake to prioritize any one religion or belief system as tourists from all backgrounds should feel equally welcome.
The local government reportedly met to discuss the issue earlier on April 30.
Halal tourism mandates that all services must abide by Islamic rules. For example, hotels cannot provide non-halal food or sell alcohol; they must also have separate swimming pools and spa facilities for men and women.
Bishop San said the plan has worried the community and could lead to social conflict, which would have the adverse affect of driving tourists away.
He said the government should focus on social problems like the marginalization of local people due to the massive land ownership of investors; a lack of access to beaches; and issues tied to local mafia gangs.
The tourism idea was also rejected by East Nusa Tenggara governor Victor Bungtilu Laiskodat.
"The concept would only lead to conflict. It should not be applied," he told reporters on May 3.
Matheus Siagian, a local businessman who works in the tourism industry, said halal tourism could only work in certain areas that meet specific conditions.
"Labuan Bajo is obviously not the place for it," he said. "It has its own identity, with its own natural and cultural richness."
Gregorius Afioma, director of the Labuan Bajo-based Sunspirit for Justice and Peace, a civil society organization, said it would just provoke trouble between Muslims and other religious groups.
He said the seeds of religious conflict have already been sown in the region, with pork vendors often being harassed by Muslims."Halal tourism would be used to justify this kind of discrimination and anti-social behavior," he said.
A file image of a Komodo dragon one; of the main tourist attractions on the Indonesian island of Flores. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
Petrus Selestinus, a lawyer and coordinator of the Indonesian Democracy Defender Team, said its implementation could even spur radicalism and intolerance, as it integrates Sharia values into tourism activities.
Shana Fatina, director of the Labuan Bajo Tourism Authority, said on May 6 there was no plan at present to implement it.
Halal tourism labels have been applied at several tourist hotspots in Indonesia where Muslims form a majority, such as Lombok and Aceh.
However, authorities in Bali and other popular destinations like Toraja in Sulawesi have opposed the initiative.
The government named Labuan Bajo one of eight priority tourist destinations in recent years, which has seen it receive millions of dollars in financial support for infrastructure development.
Tourist arrival numbers are still going up, climbing from 111,000 in 2017 to 163,000 last year. However most come from Western countries, hence the talk of reformulating tourism policies to attract more Muslims from Asia and beyond.
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