Fri, Jan 04, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Frequent disasters threaten Indonesian tourism dreams


Residents evacuate their homes as rescue workers search for survivors at the site of a landslide triggered by heavy rain that left at least nine people dead in Sukabumi, Indonesia, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Picture-postcard Tanjung Lesung was a cornerstone of Indonesia’s bid to supercharge its tourism industry, boasting palm-fringed beaches, a towering volcano in the middle of turquoise waters and a rainforest sanctuary for endangered Javan rhinos.

However, the beachside town now lies in ruins, pummeled by a deadly tsunami that has raised fresh questions about disaster preparedness and the future of a multibillion-dollar push to replicate Bali Island’s success across the Southeast Asian archipelago.

The shattered 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.

Indonesian Minister of Tourism 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 Krakatoa volcano.

“Disasters can happen anywhere in Indonesia,” he told reporters during a recent visit there. “We need to have [tsunami] early warning systems, especially in tourist destinations. We’re going to make that happen.”

However, some are less convinced, especially as disaster monitors became aware of the killer waves 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 Tedjo Iskandar, a Jakarta-based travel analyst.

About 42 percent of Indonesia’s 14 million foreign tourists headed to the popular resort island of Bali last year, giving a US$17 billion boost to Southeast 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 to 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.

However, the killer tsunami has dealt a blow to plans to pump about US$4 billion into Tanjung Lesung.

And it is not the only spot in the government’s tourism plan to be hit by a disaster — natural or anthropogenic — that could scare away tourists.

Lombok Island, 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.

In May, Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city, was hit by suicide bombings carried out by Muslim militants, while Bali was rocked as Mount Agung blew its top at the end of 2017.

That volcano is 75km away from tourist areas and the eruption posed little danger to visitors, but it still left hundreds of thousands stranded as flights were canceled.

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