Bringing Local communities on board for tourism development

Empowering local communities to engage in tourism activities can boost the industry, especially in many potential destinations in Indonesia.  

Back in June, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced "Tourism and Community Development" as this year's theme for World Tourism Day. Since tourism statistics are mainly focused on the numbers of incoming foreign visitors, the role local communities play in the tourism industry is often overlooked.  

"Each time we travel, use local transport at a destination or buy products from a local market, we are contributing to a long value chain that creates jobs, provides livelihoods, empowers local communities and ultimately brings in new opportunities for a better future," said UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai in an official statement.

Olenka "Olen" Priyadarsani believes that engagement with the local community is a huge part of tourism and travel. "Prosperous tourism indeed provides opportunities economically for local residents. For example, locals can open gift shops, food stalls, run an ojek [motorcycle taxi] business or become tour guides."

Olen is the founder of Backpackology, a travel blog she runs together with her husband, Puput Aryanto. The husband and wife team recently added a "mini-member", Oliq, to the team. The retired journalist, who had been working for a humanitarian organization in post-tsunami Aceh, is currently a full-time mom and traveler.

Going around the country, as well as around the world, she observed that without proper care, tourism can bring negative impacts to local communities. "In our visit to several places in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, we encountered local children who are being paid by foreign tourists to have their photographs taken. This bad habit is threatening the local culture and tourism development," Olen said.

In his statement, Rifai addressed a similar issue. "Tourism can only prosper if it engages the local population by contributing to social values such as participation, education and enhanced local governance. At the same time, there can be no real tourism development if such development damages in any way the values and the culture of host communities, or if the socio-economic benefits generated by the tourism sector do not trickle down to the community level."

Local communities are often the backbone as well as the face of tourism. "When considering remote areas, tourism can help the local community a lot. Remote areas are champions of beautiful nature. With the right ecotourism plan, tourism can bring important income to an area. I think there should be more emphasis to support it," said Murni Amalia, one of two founders of, a travel website dedicated to promoting Indonesian tourism.

Murni and Saphira Zoelfikar created Indohoy in 2009 because they saw a lack of information for foreign and even domestic tourists who wanted to discover the beauty of Indonesia. The website grew into a sharing place for fellow travelers.

"We've been to so many places that are supported and maintained by the local communities and they're all important," Murni recalled. "To name a few are the guide organizations at destinations with wildlife interests, such as at the Tanjung Puting National Park and the Tangkoko Nature Reserve, the Padang Mountain Bike Community that supports biking around West Sumatra and was established by the cycling community and a few former cycling athletes or the giant clam reserve in Tolitoli bay in Southeast Sulawesi, which helps conserve the giant clams and is also known as a diving destination."

In Jakarta, the potential is also growing. According to the Jakarta Statistics Agency, there is a 15 percent increase of foreign tourists entering the capital city through Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and Tanjung Priok harbor this year. So, the government needs to take action, working hand-in-hand with the community to develop tourism. One way is through actively involving local communities to promote the city's tourism growth.

Celebrating World Tourism Day, the Jakarta local government organized a cultural carnival, entitled Gebyar Budaya Hari Wisata Dunia 2014, at the west side of Plaza Taman Monas for Sept. 27. "This event is attempting to place Jakarta as our nation's cultural center, as well as the main tourism and cultural destination in Indonesia," Arie Budiman, head of the Tourism and Culture Department, said.

The all-day carnival is scheduled to exhibit different cultural performances from Sabang to Merauke and is divided into different exhibitions from the creative industry. There will also be a carnival parade and music performances by Indonesian Idols and a colossal dance called, "The Color of Jakarta for the World". The carnival is free to watch and open to the public.

Exploring art, music and dance from different provinces in Indonesia, the event is aimed at appreciating Indonesia's cultural diversity. "We want to promote the various arts and cultures of Indonesia as a tourism highlight in Jakarta," explained Arie, adding that Jakarta as the capital city also functions as a melting pot because people from all over the country's regions meet in the capital, each bringing a little something from their hometown.

Jakarta, as Olen remembers, is also where a socio-tourism community started. "I was contacted by several young office workers in the capital who were interested in creating a community-based travelling group. They contacted us through our blog and in no time we were discussing the basics," she said. "The group, Wanderlust Indonesia, travels around the country with a mission to help develop local communities. So it's not just about having fun and holidaying, but also about building local libraries, donating books and staying with the locals."

By (Ruth Ninajanty) via TheJakartaPost (

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