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NTT Tourism Needs to be More Nurturing and Less Financially Predatory

Editorial: Recent Official Pronouncements from the Indonesia Province of Nusa Tenggara Timor Reflect a Misunderstanding of How Tourism Actually Works

The Governor of the Indonesian Province of Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT), Victor B. Laiskodat, is quoted by Tempo.co and Kompas.com proclaiming that his province of Indonesia is reserved for “premium” or "wealthy tourists", disparaging those who are not wealthy as not welcome in NTT.

Quoted in the media, Governor Laiskodat said: “Because of this, poor tourists don’t need to bother to holiday in NTT because NTT has been developed for wealthy tourists. All areas of NTT have beautiful scenery and cultural attraction that cannot be found in other areas of Indonesia, or, for that matter, in the rest of the world.”

In defense of his elitist stance, the Governor boasted that NTT was recently listed among the best destinations in the world to visit in 2020. Adding: “This fact shows that our tourism destination is expensive. Because of this tourists (visiting NTT) must be rich, if they are not wealthy and come to bargain prices, just go to another region. Just send these people to Jakarta, Bali or Lombok!”

The NTT Governor boldly said he recently gave the same message to Indonesian President Joko Widodo. “I told the President that if poor tourists come, well, we already have many poor people in NTT and (we) will be bored by such visitors. If we can only bring the very rich. We will be bored to see the poor tourists,” said Laiskodat.

The Governor’s snobbish pronouncements follow closely on his recent announcement seeking to set the admission charge to the World Heritage Komodo National Park at US$1,000 in order to deter “low-cost tourist” that apparently, in the Governor’s view, equates with “low quality” tourists.

With all due respect to the Governor, his declarations are poorly founded, reflecting a lack of understanding of how the international tourism industry actually works and what, in fact, is most needed to accelerate the development of NTT tourism. Sadly, the Governor’s aspirations for NTT are wrong-minded and fundamentally inimical to national aspirations to create a successful tourism industry for the region.

The Governor's condescending disdain for “low-cost” tourists ignores fundamental truths about NTT as a destination and the widely accepted understanding of how tourism markets grow in a developing country context.

The “youth” and “backpacker” market are often seen as “lower-spending tourists” and therefore presumably less desirous in the eyes of NTT’s Governor.

But before NTT gives the “boot and shove” to these markets, the NTT provincial administration should carefully consider the following:

  • The United Nations World Travel Organization (UNWTO) recognizes the “youth market as a major force for development and positive social change, having the potential to be a driving force for sustainable development in the tourism sector."
  • The UNWTO projects that by 2020, some 370 million youth travelers will spend US$400 billion on travel.
  • The youth sector is the fastest-growing market segment in travel, with youth travel representing 23% of the one billion international holiday trips taken annually.
  • The youth and backpacker market are often incorrectly perceived as low-spending when, in fact, research carried out by the World Youth, Student and Educations Confederation (WYSE) shows a market segment spending more than US$1,000 a week, staying for extended periods, and spending 60% or more of their total travel budget at their chosen destination with local suppliers from the surrounding community.
  • WYSE estimates that the youth market spends an average of US$2,160 on their main trip each year.
  • Appearances can also be misleading, the European backpacker in NTT may, in fact, be professors, doctors, lawyers or a leader in another professional field when he or she returns home.
  • In Australia, the youth market has been tracked showing that 58% return to a destination within 5 years.
  • The youth market brings to a destination, such as NTT, the added benefit of bringing travelers naturally inclined to frequent Internet and Social Network Marketing technologies. These travelers publicize and share their travel experience to friends and other travelers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other online applications that provide invaluable marketing exposure to a larger world regarding the places they visit in NTT.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the WYSE research shows that the youth and backpacker market is both resilient and adventurous, making them particularly appropriate to new and developing destinations, such as NTT, where the level of service and infrastructure development may be lagging. Similarly, it has been shown that the youth market is among the first to return to conflict areas, regions that have suffered natural disasters, and in post-plague periods.
  • The youth market pioneers new destinations, such as NTT. They accept accommodation that may still be of substandard quality, often laying the groundwork for a more sophisticated level of traveler and travel product to follow. Backpackers visiting Bali, Yogya and Lake Toba in the 1970s and 1980s provided the inspiration (and sometimes the training) for small entrepreneurs to open homestays and local restaurants.
  • It is also worth bearing in mind that while the business and first-class seating sections of airplanes are the most coveted, it is, in fact, the people sitting in the economy section that make pay the bills and make flight operations to remote regions financially viable. NTT is extremely dependent on flights operated by low-cost air carriers who may no longer find it possible to profitably operate to regions where backpackers and youth travelers are no longer welcome.
  • Policies refecting Governor Laiskodat mindset, such as the planned admission ticket of US$1,000 per visitor to the Komodo National Park, may stop dead in its tracks the booming development now underway in adjacent Labuan Bajo. Cruise ships will simply remove Komodo from their cruise itineraries as, for practical and legal reasons, cruise operators cannot impose an additional US$1,000 charge on their passengers, telling them during a Komodo visit to "pay up" or spend the day held to ransom on the cruise ship.

The desire to welcome “only” wealthy tourists to NTT is a stance tainted by greed and actually detrimental to plans to bring tourism development to one of Indonesia’s most spectacularly beautiful and culturally interesting regions. By all means create, five-star accommodation and facilities to serve the “well-heeled” and "super-rich."  But to do so by abandoning the backpacker and youth market is to betray they very market segment that is prepared to explore areas of “off-the-beaten-track” tourism and accelerate the overall development of NTT as a tourism destination.

With all due respect to Governor Laiskodat, his current elitist campaign to seek only rich visitors to NTT may prove both shortsighted and self-defeating to his desire to economically develop his beloved Province.


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