Indonesia's '10 New Balis' tourism push rocked by disasters

The sport and leisure centre at the Tanjung Lesung Beach resort in ruins on Dec 26 last year after a deadly tsunami pummelled the west coast of Indonesia's Java island on Dec 22.
The sport and leisure centre at the Tanjung Lesung Beach resort in ruins on Dec 26 last year after a deadly tsunami pummelled the west coast of Indonesia's Java island on Dec 22.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Killer tsunami, quakes and other disasters could keep tourists from scenic spots on list

TANJUNG LESUNG (Indonesia) • Picture-postcard Tanjung Lesung was a cornerstone of Indonesia's bid to supercharge its tourism industry.

It boasts palm-fringed beaches, a rainforest sanctuary for endangered Javan rhinos and a towering volcano in the middle of turquoise waters.

But the beachside town now lies in ruins, pummelled by a deadly tsunami that has raised fresh questions about disaster preparedness and the future of a multibillion-dollar push to replicate Bali's success across the South-east Asian archipelago.

The community was hosting a pop concert when the waves crashed ashore last month at night and without warning.

Several members of the Indonesian band Seventeen and more than 100 others at the Tanjung Lesung Beach Hotel were killed - about a quarter of those who died in the volcano-triggered tsunami.

A clutch of other area hotels was also devastated, with beachside cottages flattened and debris - chairs, tables and the band's audio equipment - scattered everywhere.

Tourism Minister Arief Yahya, who ordered that the town be rebuilt in six months, brushed aside concerns sparked by the tsunami, which was triggered by a sudden eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano.

 
 
 
 

"Disasters can happen anywhere in Indonesia," he told Agence France-Presse during a recent visit there. "We need to have (tsunami) early warning systems, especially in tourist destinations. We're going to make that happen."

But some are less convinced, especially since disaster monitors became aware of the killer waves only after they had already smashed into the coastline along western Java and southern Sumatra.

"It's going to be even more difficult to promote (the area), especially now that buildings are destroyed and the volcano is more active," said Mr Tedjo Iskandar, a Jakarta-based travel analyst.

About 42 per cent of Indonesia's 14 million foreign tourists headed to the popular resort island of Bali last year, giving a US$17 billion (S$23.1 billion) boost to South-east Asia's biggest economy.

The government picked Tanjung Lesung and nine other locations as part of its "10 New Balis" strategy, a plan unveiled in 2016 with an eye on courting Chinese, Singaporean and other investors as it pushes to hit 20 million tourists annually.

The list includes ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, tropical islands near Jakarta, the Mount Bromo volcano in eastern Java, and a national park that is home to Komodo dragons, the world's biggest lizard.

But the killer tsunami has dealt a blow to plans to pump some US$4 billion into Tanjung Lesung.

And it is not the only spot in the government's tourism plan to suffer a disaster - natural or man-made - that could scare away tourists.

Lombok, next to Bali, was rocked by earthquakes in the summer that killed more than 500 and sparked a mass exodus of foreigners from the tropical paradise.

That was weeks after Lake Toba on Sumatra island - also on the "New Bali" list - was the scene of a ferry accident that left almost 200 people missing or dead.

Last May, Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya, was hit by suicide bombings carried about by Islamist militants, while Bali was rocked as Mount Agung blew its top at the end of 2017.

Jakarta's tourism push may still have a chance, but only if it gets serious about safety, said Mr I Ketut Ardana, head of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies' Bali office.

"The (government) needs to better inform locals and tourists so they are prepared when a disaster strikes," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'Indonesia's '10 New Balis' tourism push rocked by disasters'. Print Edition | Subscribe