Indonesia's volcanoes serve as powerful tourist magnets

Frenchman Karl Kaddouri, who calls himself an extreme adventurer, climbed to the top of Mount Agung, reaching the edge of the volcano's crater and taking video footage that he later uploaded on his Facebook page. Mount Agung is on the highest alert l
Frenchman Karl Kaddouri, who calls himself an extreme adventurer, climbed to the top of Mount Agung, reaching the edge of the volcano's crater and taking video footage that he later uploaded on his Facebook page. Mount Agung is on the highest alert level of Stage 4, which means an eruption is imminent.PHOTO: COURTESY OF KARL KADDOURI

Businesses were decimated after the last major eruption on Mount Sinabung, near Lake Toba in north Sumatra, in 2015. The volcano has since continued to rumble, erupting a number of times since 2010.

However, things have apparently turned around for many businesses over the past two years, thanks mainly to tourists flocking to the region because of the volcano itself.

"People's mindset has changed. Last time they were afraid, but now they see it as an attraction," said Mr Dedi Nelson, general manager of Hotel Sibayak Internasional, 20km from Mount Sinabung.

The danger zone is 7km around the volcano.

He added: "Potential guests, especially those from Europe, like to ask when the volcano would erupt again. We always say we don't know, but to come here as the scenery is great."

Indonesia should seriously consider promoting disaster tourism as a growth area for the country, said its National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB).

"Volcano eruptions do not happen everywhere around the world and are not phenomena that come around often," BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said last Thursday.

He noted that Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, has 127 volcanoes, or 13 per cent of the total number worldwide.

Two of them - Mount Agung on Bali island and Mount Sinabung - are both currently on the highest alert level of Stage 4, which means an eruption is imminent.

Dr Sutopo emphasised that viewing sites for volcanoes must remain well outside danger zones and be carefully chosen by competent authorities. For example, the site for Mount Agung should be located west of the mountain now, since the wind is blowing from the west to the east. The danger zone is up to 12km around the volcano.

Mr Nelson, who ushers guests to Hotel Sibayak's rooftop whenever Mount Sinabung acts up, says nothing beats the experience of watching an eruption.

Guests at his hotel also have the alternative of heading to a spot just outside the danger zone.

But for some, like Frenchman Karl Kaddouri, who describes himself as an extreme adventurer, that is still not enough.

Earlier this month, he climbed to the top of Mount Agung, reached the edge of the crater and captured footage that he later uploaded on his Facebook page.

When The Sunday Times asked him about the disaster tourism proposal, Mr Kaddouri said: "I would like to be one of the ambassadors to promote this plan in Indonesia as well as overseas."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 29, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia's volcanoes serve as powerful tourist magnets'. Print Edition | Subscribe