Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Lack of flights and infrastructure hamper Lombok tourism: Agency

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Senggigi, Lombok

Lack of direct international flights and poor infrastructure have stifled tourism in Lombok, a small island just east of Bali in West Nusa Tenggara, an official says.

"The island has many things to offer to foreign visitors, but without the availability of international direct flights to Lombok, most potential visitors will travel to other destinations instead," head of the West Lombok Tourism Agency Tjok Suthendra said on the sidelines of the Senggigi Festival's closing ceremony over the weekend.

The seven day-festival showcased over 35 performances and cultural events, and was aimed at bolstering the image of Lombok as a safe and attractive tourist destination.

Silk Air, the only international airline that flies to Lombok from its Singapore home base, cut back its flights from six to four times a week.

With between 70 and 80 percent of its foreign visitors starting their holidays in Bali, Lombok's tourism industry is at the mercy of domestic airlines plying the Bali-Lombok route.

Merpati Air, with the most Bali-Lombok direct flights, flies the route with its aging Fokker 27 propeller-driven planes, thus putting off many potential passengers hoping for the level of service and comfort offered on wide-body, newer aircraft.

"Another problem is the limited capacity of our Selaparang airport. The Boeing 737-400 is the biggest aircraft the airport's runway can handle," he said.

Despite the fact that the local government acquired 600 hectares of land needed for expansion, a plan to enlarge the airport and to upgrade its facilities has been shelved since the economic crisis hit the country in 1997.

Another major obstacle for tourism development concerns Lombok's infrastructure.

"There are 15 designated tourist destinations in West Nusa Tenggara, most of which still have infrastructure problems, particularly concerning electricity and clean water supply as well as telephone lines," Suthendra said.

In Lombok, the lack of infrastructure has resulted in tragic losses, as evidenced by the case of Bangko-bangko, a surfing beach some 71 kilometers southwest of the island's capital of Mataram.

"The condition of the main road connecting Mataram with Bangko-bangko is generally good, except for the last two kilometers of the road, which is in a terrible and dangerous state, to the point that tourists just won't take it," he said.

The beach averages about 40 visits a day by foreign surfers/tourists. Most of surfers agree that Bangko-bangko is a unique surf beach with seriously excellent wave activity happening.

"Unfortunately, the infrastructure around the beach is lacking or nonexistent, so the surfers opt to stay on Bali's Nusa Lembongan island, and my Balinese tour agency colleagues in Bali sell the surfing experience of Bangko-bangko for US$300 per person/day, they cruise over by boat and stay all day, but we here in Lombok only get the empty beer cans and other trash, literally, to take care of," he said.

Suthendra believed that if the local government could overcome those two obstacles Lombok could become one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Indonesia.

"Lombok's finest tourism asset is her natural beauty, and, since it is a relatively small island, the visitors do not have to travel far to enjoy both the natural charm of our unspoiled beaches and the scenic beauty of our lush tropical forests and mountains," he declared.

Some 190,000 tourists visited West Lombok in the year 2000. The number increased to 196,000 in 2001 before the Bali bombings took its toll in October 2002, after which the number fell to 156,000 people for the year. As of June 2003, the number had only reached a paltry 55,000 people.

"I don't think we will be able to reach the 2002 figure, but, considering the bombings, Iraq war and SARS, I believe that we have made some improvements," Suthendra said.