Tourism companies in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park began a month-long strike on Monday after the government imposed a huge price hike.
Jakarta’s 18-fold increase for entry to the park’s most popular islands is trying to limit visitor numbers to protect endangered Komodo dragons — the world’s largest lizards — from overexposure from humans and environmental damage.
The move, which went into effect on Monday, increased entry fees for the World Heritage-listed islands of Komodo and Padar in East Nusa Tenggara province from 200,000 rupiah ($13) to 3.75 million rupiah ($252).
But it sparked uproar among locals who rely on tourism, and industry-related businesses in the national park – still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic – were shut down in protest on Monday.
“We have no choice, we have put forward all our rational opinions and arguments, but the government has not listened,” said Servianus Setiawan, a tour operator in Labuan Bajo, the town that serves as the park’s entrance.
“We support Komodo protection, but please come up with a reasonable number so that we can protect Komodo dragons and allow people who depend on tourism for their livelihood to live.”
East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Laiskodat said the new price would be enforced despite the protest.
“We admit that we failed to disseminate the information (about the price increase) properly. We will better inform people while we monitor and assess the situation,” he told reporters on Monday.
At least 700 workers will join the strike by the end of August, Servianus said.
Tour organizer Samin told AFP those who refused to join the strike had been threatened with “social sanctions”.
A tourism association threatened to burn down businesses that were still open.
Locals said the drastic price hike would discourage tourists on a budget from visiting the national park, which was nearly deserted at the height of the pandemic.
“We’re slowly recovering, if people cancel their reservations we’ll fall apart again,” Matheus Siagian, a hotel and restaurant owner, told AFP.
“Please let’s heal first.”
Komodo dragons are only found in the national park and on the neighboring island of Flores, and according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, only 3,458 adult and young Komodo dragons remain in the wild.
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