Home to more than half of the biodiversity in this country, West Papua has tremendous ecotourism potentials. The most popular one is perhaps Raja Ampat as a destination for diving and homestay experiences. Baliem Valley Festival in Jayawijaya, bird watching in Arfak Mountain, mangrove in Bintuni Bay, carving in Asmat are gaining more global popularity. The list can still go longer.
It requires collaboration from all parties – central and regional governments, private sectors, and stakeholders – to promote this island to be a world-class ecotourism destination. The efforts also have to make sure that the development and promotion will include sustainable or green investment.
Ecotourism – Sustainable Tourism
The term ecotourism emerged in the 1960s specifically to describe all kinds of tourism in the what-so-called “protected areas.”
It gained a new definition from The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, namely “responsible travel to natural areas that preserve the environment and increases the prosperity of the local population.”
In 2002, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and UN Environment Program (UNEP) defined an elaborate new uniform meaning – sustainable tourism. It is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impact, addressing the need of the visitor, the industry, the environment, and the host community.”
The International Centre for Responsible Tourism proposed a short definition: “making better places for people to live in, and better places to visit.”
Promoting Ecotourism in West Papua
Based on the above definitions, ecotourism pays more careful attention to two essential factors – the natural environment and the local people. Similarly, ecotourism means nature conservation and indigenous community resilience in West Papua.
For the nature
Many hotels, resorts, and other tourism businesses on this island have practiced the sustainable tourism policy and guidelines. To name some of them are:
- Building in harmony with nature: the use of local materials for construction purposes, the use of driftwood or recycled wood, and trees and flowers planting.
- Natural resources conservation: water consumption, eco-friendly products, and biodegradable products.
- Energy-saving to avoid pollution: the use of solar panel system and rechargeable batteries for 24-hr electricity supply.
- Waste management: avoiding bulk plastic using or packaging, composted waste, and collected and recycled waste.
- Environment conservation: for example, conducting regular beach cleans up with the visitors, safeguarding sea ecosystems, and protecting the forests.
For the local population
The green investment needs to base ecotourism on the indigenous population since they know better their natural potentials, cultures, culinary heritage, handicrafts, and more.
The ecotourism development in West Papua needs to create positive impacts, such as improving the welfare of the local community and giving birth to new entrepreneurs.
- Local employment suggests the tourism industries hire more local employees. It means delivering the necessary knowledge and training to them.
- Social projects may also target the contribution to local education. There have been many book donations to the local schools, teaching materials, and scholarships. For a prominent example, hiring English teachers may enhance the opportunities of local people to work in the tourism field.
- Supporting local businesses has played a significant role in promoting ecotourism. Using the local guides and the movement of “buy local products” are two examples.
You can experience the most authentic tours in West Papua (jungles, villages, wildlife flora and fauna, and more) with the help of local guides. In return, they can have another source of family income. Also, buying from local commodities (homemade, fresh, organic products) can help the local economy.
Once again, we can carry out the above practices through the commitment and synergy of all stakeholders – the governments, private sectors, indigenous people, religious and youth groups, and more.
To sum up, community-based ecotourism in West Papua has the purpose to protect, conserve, empower, and optimize the benefits of tourism resources while increasing economic development. This easternmost island has become one of the rising stars of world-class ecotourism destinations.