The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


The façade of ecotourism: issues with tourism promotion in Karimunjawa National Park

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 22, 2014

Karimunjawa National Park is very unique for two key reasons: its beautiful marine attractions and close proximity to the densely populated island of Java. Having been heavily overfished during the past few decades, park authorities are now making efforts to protect and rehabilitate the park’s marine resources. As part of these efforts, tourism is being promoted as an alternative means for local residents to earn a living as opposed to other livelihood activities that are more resources intensive such as fishing. Working together with the National Park Authority, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been investing in community-based programs that aim to build tourism enterprises.

However, our investigations during our field research for the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership has revealed fundamental issues with the promotion of tourism as a sustainable alternative livelihood in Karimunjawa.

On the one hand, tourism promotion in the park has been extremely successful when we consider the dramatic of increase of visitors over the past few years. However, on the other hand, the chaotic and uncontrolled development of tourism has detrimental impacts on the environment and poses new conservation issues for park managers, for which they have yet to find any concrete solutions.

To illustrate this enormous increase of visitors, in 2008 the total number of tourist to the park amounted to approximately 13,000 for the entire year, while as in 2014 the same amount of visitors have been reported flow into the park during a single week in the high season. This enormous boom in tourism is undoubtedly good for the local economy, but at what environmental cost?

During our research in Karimunjawa National Park we found that the regulatory framework for tourism in the region is severely lacking. As one WCS employee points out, the regional Department of Tourism is only concerned with the promotion and development of tourism and doesn’t offer any regulations for its sustainable management. Nationally, the potential harmful environmental impacts from tourism are regulated under Law No. 32 – 2009 on the Protection of the Environment. However, since Indonesia’s era of decentralization, the implementation and enforcement of this law and others related to sustainable tourism falls to the provincial, regional and municipal governments that are often unprepared to take on such a complicated task. What further exacerbates the problem is the lack of cooperation between various government offices throughout all levels of government. This can lead to clashes of interests between different institutions and often produces gaps and overlaps in their activities.

In addition, there is insufficient ecotourism and conservation training offered to people working in the tourism trade. It is not uncommon to see tour guides standing on coral or boat drivers throwing garbage directly it the sea while on the job. Such a fundamental lack of environmental awareness and the lack of agreed upon best practices for tourism workers clearly illustrate that Karimunjawa currently doesn’t meet any kind of ecotourism standard.

A tour guide with his client stand on top of an already damaged piece of coral in a popular snorkeling spot off Menjangan Kecil, Karimunjawa National Park

A tour guide with his client stand on top of an already damaged piece of coral in a popular snorkeling spot off Menjangan Kecil, Karimunjawa National Park

These issues highlight the importance of providing better support mechanisms for ecotourism if any semblance of sustainability is to be reached. Management should proactively put in place proper regulatory frameworks and education programs before investing in the full on promotion of tourism. Otherwise, the only kind of tourism that risks developing is mass tourism along with its severe environmental impacts.

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This blog post has been written by Gilles Maillet. Gilles is a GIS Specialist at Yarmouth Active Transportation, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

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