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Ticket row sparks protest at Indonesia’s Komodo Park

Tour services suspended as govt raises entry ticket fee from US$10 to $250 citing conservation concerns
Rafael Todowela (center), a tourism operator in Labuan Bajo, a tourist town in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province, was among three arrested on Aug. 1 for protesting against a government decision to raise Komodo Park ticket prices

Rafael Todowela (center), a tourism operator in Labuan Bajo, a tourist town in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province, was among three arrested on Aug. 1 for protesting against a government decision to raise Komodo Park ticket prices. (Photo: YouTube screengrab) 

Published: August 02, 2022 03:56 AM GMT

Tourism operators and associations in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority province of East Nusa Tenggara have stopped all services for a month to protest against an entry fee hike at Komodo National Park.

The shutdown was made effective on Aug. 1 after 24 tourism operators and associations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on July 30 in Labuan Bajo, a tourist town in West Manggarai district and the gateway to the park.

Tourism operators termed the government ticket policy “authoritarian.”

“We … sign this agreement to protest against an authoritarian policy of both central and regional governments in relation to the hike of the entry fee for the park which starts to be applied on Aug. 1,” the pact reads.

“We agree to stop all kinds of tourism services in the park and all tourism destinations in this district starting from Aug. 1 until Aug. 31.”

The pact also warned that any operator who violates the agreement would face [dire] consequences.

"Farmers who used to supply vegetables to hotels will lose their income"

“If a certain tourism actor or association violates this agreement within the period of time, their facilities will be burned down,” they said.

Anno Susabun, a signatory from the Sunspirit for Justice and Peace, alleged that with the ticket price hike the government seeks to establish a monopoly and to commercialize the park.

“We must fight against such monopoly practices. And this fight must start from tourism actors [and associations] terribly affected by the move,” he told UCA News.

He said he fears the price hike will also lead to economic loss among local people.

“For instance, farmers who used to supply vegetables to hotels will lose their income as hotels no longer need their supplies due to the decrease in the number of tourists,” he said.

He noted that by signing the MoU tourism operators are putting pressure on the government to reverse the decision.

"Nearly 95 percent of local people who solely rely on tourism will have no choice but return to the sea"

“We want them to cancel the price hike and to restore the original price,” he said.

The government raised entry ticket prices for the park from US$10 per person to US$250, both for domestic and international tourists. The entry tickets are available only through an online application controlled by the provincial state company, PT Flobamor.

Doni Parera, a local environmental activist, pointed out that the price hike does not fit with the conservation concerns of the government.

“Raising the entry ticket prices means that the number of tourists will decrease. Thus, nearly 95 percent of local people who solely rely on tourism will have no choice but return to the sea [for a living],” he said.

“The problem is that they no longer have fishing tools. All have been sold. They may choose the easiest technique to fish by using like trawlers which can destroy the marine ecosystems.”

The termination of tourism services led to the arrest of three tourism actors, including Rafael Todowela, another signatory.

“We see that the price hike was decided at the wrong moment"

West Manggarai Police chief Felli Hermanto claimed the arrests were made as their protests threatened social order.

Father Alfons Segar, vicar-general of Ruteng diocese confirmed that Bishop Siprianus Hormat has written a letter to President Joko Widodo seeking a solution to the crisis over Komodo Park.

The priest said that Bishop Hormat’s letter echoed concerns of another letter in July where he called for the promotion of “holistic tourism covering all dimensions of life and common welfare.”

“We see that the price hike was decided at the wrong moment as tourism in Labuan Bajo and on Flores Island, in general, is still trying to rise following the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

He also called on all related parties to sit in a dialogue to deal with the issue. 

Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famed as the natural habitat of giant lizards known as “Komodo dragons.” The park covers three islands — Komodo, Padar and Rinca — where rugged hillsides, thorny green vegetation, white sandy beaches and the blue waters swelling over corals are among the major tourist attractions.

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