Skift Take

Closing islands for a rehab seems fashionable in Southeast Asia. It shouldn’t be. Authorities must first assess options carefully, and by no means should premature announcements be made. Just look at the Komodo Island example and the wrong messages Indonesia has sent about one of its most unique tourism assets.

Asia is in a mood to close tourism islands. After Boracay in the Philippines and Maya Island in Thailand, Komodo Island in Indonesia may be next.

A decision on Komodo Island’s closure will only be made by this year’s end, as our report below shows. But an announcement by East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Laiskodat in November 2018 that the island would be closed for a year starting January 2020 has turned out to be premature. It has caused so much confusion and loss of business for tourism operators, not to mention loss of sleep for the island community involved.

At the heart of this debacle is Komodo dragons in the wild. They are rare — reportedly around 1,000 to 5,000 living today — and are found roaming freely on five islands in Indonesia. The most famous of these are Komodo Island, Rinca Island, and Padar Island, which are part of Komodo National Park.

The latest reviews of Komodo National Park on TripAdvisor show most visitors were pleased with their trip. No one complained of overcrowding or disappointments over dragon no-shows.

Unlike Boracay and Maya, which were overcrowded, reasons cited thus far for a possible Komodo Island closure invite plenty of questions. The main reason reportedly is to reduce or eliminate the poaching of animals — the Komodos themselves and their prey, such as buffalo and deer. Following the rehabilitation, fees to the park would rise audaciously to at least $500 per international visitor from $10.50 currently, if governor Laiskodat has his way.

But why close Komodo Island only and not Rinca Island, where lots of komodos could also be found? Would the closure result in more poaching on Rinca? And how do authorities plan to stop poaching after reopening Komodo Island later, when they are unable to prevent it now?

How does charging foreign tourists $500 help sustain the island and its Jurassic-like lizards? How on earth did the governor arrive at such an astronomical figure as $500 when, say, a fantastic destination such as Ecuador’s Galapagos charges $100 per adult, aside from a $20 Transit Control Card?

This is a tragicomedy. Closure on the issue is needed.

— Raini Hamdi, Skift Asia Editor, [email protected], @RainiHamdi

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Asia Editor Raini Hamdi [[email protected]] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.

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Tags: airasia, fosun, google maps, grab, skift asia weekly, thomas cook, tony fernandes, travelsky

Photo credit: Pink Beach, Komodo Island. Closing islands for a rehab seems fashionable in Southeast Asia. Photo by Joachim S. Müller on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA. Joachim S. Müller / Visual Hunt

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