But the award could prove a double-edged sword for the UNESCO-recognised site, reports Mimi Hudoyo.
This article was published in TTG Asia, 30 Oct – 5 Nov 2009 edition.
1) Does Komodo National Park have a shot at making the list?
Home to the famed dragons that give the park its name and biodiverse marine environment, the park is one of 28 finalists in the New7Wonder of Nature race, a selection of seven natural wonders chosen in a global online poll.
The attendant publicity is expected to provide a lift in visitor head count and, in turn, perk up developer interest in this largely
But as a UNESCO heritage site with a maximum carrying capacity of 50,000 visitors a year, the New7Wonder’s prize could prove a double-edged sword: ensuring the park can accommodate growing visitor numbers without damaging its natural environment.
2) How is the park performing?
Visitor numbers have been rebounding after 1997’s high of 33,000 fell in the wake of political upheavals that beset Indonesia after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.
Recent years have seen an improvement in arrival numbers. Though still below UNESCO’s capacity limit, arrivals of 12,000 for the seven months of the year are already more than half of the 22,000 visitors achieved last year.
As a result, authorities are confident of a further increase this year as another eight cruises are due to call before year-end.
International cruise lines are playing a major role bringing travellers to Komodo.
Putri Naga Komodo, the destination management company that holds the concession for the park, is actively seeking new market sources. Europe and the US are key markets, but arrivals from Russia, Japan, South Korea and China are growing steadily.
3) What is being done to protect the park? Authorities have implemented measures to limit the impact of visitors on the environment.
Park director Tamen Sitorus said: “We have applied shifts to (schedule) visits for cruise passengers between Loh Liang (Komodo
Island) and Loh Nuaya (Rinca Island) and limit the time of visits for each group. In the future, when tourist numbers are over the limit, we will open another site in Loh Baru.”
Putri Naga tourism manager Marius Saridin said the DMC’s strategy to lengthen average stays led it to work with the West Flores Tourism Forum in developing new sustainable attractions, in effect, a strategy that could take some of the heat off the park. Activities include trekking Mbeliling Mountain, visiting Cuncarami waterfall and Sano Nggoang, one of the world’s deepest volcanic craters
4) What should be done to prepare for the expected growth?
Herein lies the challenge: the park needs to provide facilities while refraining from the unbridled development that has spoiled so many other places.
“(We need to) develop more attractions in Labuan Bajo and Flores. This will give more reasons for tourists to visit the West Manggarai area than just Komodo,” said Incito Tour director Ng Sebastian.
“Other operators feel an airport upgrade is in order as the current facility can only accommodate Fokker 50 or F27 aircraft,” said Flores Exotic Tours director Leonardus Nyoman.
“What is crucial is an integrated plan for tourism development, including the readiness of people to receive a bigger number of
tourists,” said Floressa Bali Tours managing director Paul Edmundus.