There be dragons, and a visit could cost US$1000 – The Times

Sunset over islands in East Nusa Tenggara. (Simon Roughneen)

Sunset over islands in East Nusa Tenggara. (Simon Roughneen)BANG

BANGKOK — In a hint that Indonesia could be tiring of the drunken antics of young Western tourists on the holiday island of Bali, President Joko Widodo said he wants only “super premium” visitors to nearby islands that are home to the Komodo dragon, the world’s biggest and deadliest lizard.

“Don’t mix with the middle lower ones,” Widodo told a conference in capital Jakarta, implying that Labuan Bajo, an island in eastern Indonesia that is the gateway to Komodo, one of the handful of islands where the eponymous reptiles can be seen, opt for well-to-do tourists.

Local officials have touted a US$1000 “annual membership” fee to visit Komodo for a look at the lizards, which hunt deer and buffalo, packing a venomous bite that can kill an adult human.

Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, the governor of the East Nusa Tenggara province that Komodo and Labuan Bajo are part of, was quoted in Indonesian newspapers as saying “those with thin pockets are not recommended to come and visit.”

Labuan Bajo and nearby Komodo are among the destinations the government has touted as “10 New Balis” it hopes will be the springboard for Indonesian tourism growth. While visitor numbers are growing, last year’s 15.8 million tourists pales beside Thailand’s 38 million and Malaysia’s 25 million.

Almost half the Indonesian total was made up of arrivals to Bali, where a cocktail of beaches and bars attracts hordes of backpackers and surfers, many of them young Australians, while inland temples are a magnet for more sedate “Eat Pray Love” types, demographics that the government apparently does not want to see elsewhere.

Among the other ten would-be hubs the government is promoting are Lake Toba, site of a huge volcanic eruption about 75,000 years ago, and Borobudur, an imposing old Buddhist temple on Java.

“I hope, in late 2020, every infrastructure – calendar of events, creative economic products and souvenirs – which will support new tourist destinations, will be completed,” Widodo, who is known by his nickname “Jokowi, “wrote on his official Twitter account on Sunday. Widodo was re-elected in April to a second five year term as president of the 270 million population Muslim-majority archipelago.

“I think the plan might be good depending on how it is implemented,” said Siwage Dharma Negara, an Indonesian economist with the ISEAS-Yusok Ishak Institute, a Singaporean think tank. Aiming for the wealthy or luury tourism market is unlikely to boost overall numbers, and Negara cautioned that “of course you cant deny other non high end tourists to have the opportunity to access the destinations.”

For all its far-flung variety and natural beauty, Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, leaving it vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Getting around the 3,000 mile wide, 17,000 island archipelago can be another challenge for visitors, so the government is trying to raise money for upgrades to the country’s transport infrastructure, which banks and experts estimate at needing around US$1 trillion over the coming decades if Indonesia is to catch up with wealthier neighbours.

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