​​​​​Lessons Learned: Beautiful and Pure Nature and Culture, as well as Community Participation are Keys to Successful Ecotourism in Raja Ampat

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The landscapes of Batang Gadis and Batang Toru stretch over Mandailing Natal, South Tapanuli, and North Tapanuli Districts in North Sumatra Province have a huge, yet untapped, tourism potential. Our study shows that the area has more than 270 ecotourism attractions, but only 17 are in operation. More distressing is the fact that only 1-2 sites are exposed to foreign tourists passing through from Prapat City, Toba Lake to Bukit Tinggi.

To discover ways to promote tourism in the area, Conservation International (CI) Indonesia facilitated a comparative study activity to Raja Ampat District, West Papua Province for the provincial and district governments as well as a number of technical implementation units directly involved in the conservation of Batang Gadis and Batang Toru.

Raja Ampat was chosen for its successful collaborative ecotourism development. Fourteen representatives from several government agencies, including North Sumatra Provincial Government; North Tapanuli, South Tapanuli, Mandailing Natal District Governments; North Sumatra Conservation and Natural Resources Office; Mandailing Natal Production Forest Management Unit; and Batang Gadis National Park took part in the activity, which was held from 10-15 April 2016.

The visit is to finalize the ecotourism study and encourage a follow-up plan for ecotourism development. The participants and the management of Raja Ampat ecotourism sites exchanged information about ways to make improvements through presentations of general overview, lessons learned, and success stories about the kind of ecotourism that attracts foreign tourists.​

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Upon arrival, they were received in the District Head office by the district's Acting Secretary, Dr. Yusuf Salim, M.Si, on behalf of the District Head. Yusuf presented Raja Ampat's conditions and potentials, as well as the collaborative visitor management system. A number of personnel from the management of Raja Ampat ecotourism sites also provided additional information.

The district government through its Local Public Service Agency charges domestic tourists Rp500,000 and foreign tourists Rp1,000,000 as a mandatory entrance fee. A visitor will receive a pass, valid for 1 year, that must be presented upon their arrival in Raja Ampat. The fees then go to conservation efforts and the locals.

Besides visitor pass, the participants learned many other lessons from the visit. When they took a 3-4 hour trip to Wayang Island, for example, they needed to pay Rp1,000,000 for a speedboat ride. Upon enquiry, they were told that the money would be distributed to two villages around the island as a reward for their contribution to the environmental conservation. The participants were able to enjoy the stunning, lush, and well-kept view of Raja Ampat from the summit of Karst Mountain on the island.​

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A visit to Arborek Village provided a new insight into the sasi concept. During sasi, the locals are prohibited from catching fishes, scallops, lobsters, and other sea creatures within a given period of time. The purpose is to allow ample time for this marine biota to grow and breed, attracting many fishes to swim along the beaches around the village. Wide community participation in sasi demonstrates how deep their concern for the nature.

In addition to marine conservation, Raja Ampat also engages in land conservation through its well-known conservation of wildlife habitat for Cendrawasih (bird of paradise). The participants took a bird-watching tour in a forest in Saporkren Village, where Cend​​rawasih are often spotted wandering freely in the morning. Orgenes Diamara is a bird lover who founds this bird-watching activity, and it has since helped boost the village's tourism. Orgenes has trained 30 people to become bird-watching tour guides to help tourists enjoy birds. His passion for birds and his tenacity in developing the community​ has opened many opportunities for the village to improve its economy.

"Raja Ampat, as an example of established ecotourism area, is the perfect location for our comparative study. Despite limitations, Raja Ampat communities are able to preserve their picturesque environment while developing ecotourism and incorporating it into their local economy," said Ir. Bambang Harianto, Head of Batang Gadis National Park.​ (Teguh Hartono & Dwikie R. Dewantoro/May, 3 2016)​​​


Read also: ​Cendrawasih Bird Watching: Fun & Educational Ecotourism at Raja Ampat​​

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