Indonesian volcano soon to be tourism hot spot?

In an attempt to recover from some of its losses, the Indonesian government is hoping to turn Mount Sinabung into a tourist hot spot. The volcano which began erupting after being dormant for over 400 years, killed 16 people over the weekend.

According to The Straits Times, Indonesian officials have drawn up a plan to keep visitors coming to watch the erupting volcano. Spots will be allocated by the government for safe viewing by the tourists and an information centre will also be built. The government also has plans to build a museum displaying the after effects of the volcano eruptions.

Ukus Kuswara, secretary-general at the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, the government told press during a press conference led by the National Disaster Management Agency that it is “trying to take another spin on this to win back tourists.”

He added that visits will have to be managed properly and while further detail was not given on the funding of the project, it is likely it would involve a combination of the central and local government and donors.

Ukus also told the local media that the country has estimatedly spent US$3.5 million on recovering from the disaster. Hotel booking and stays in Kabanjahe, the town closest to Mount Sinabung, has fallen by nearly 22% and motels saw a drop of nearly 43%.

Tourist spots further from the actual volcano site also saw a decline in visitors. The government is hence hoping the revenue from “disaster tourism” will ease out the economic problems, if done tastefully.

This is not the first time a country has relied on disaster tourism to ride the storm.

Last year, Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant also made plans to become tourist attraction when Hiroki Azuma, professor of philosophy at Waseda University pitched the idea of turning the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into a sightseeing spot. Also in 2011, merely seven months after Japan’s north-east coast was destroyed by a tsunami, the country’s officials offered free return flights to 10,000 foreign visitors.

Will it work?

Graham Hitchmough, regional director ASEAN of Brand Union said that what the government has to be weary of now is how it communicates the plans of turning the disaster site into a tourism gold mine.

Already making the announcement of turning it into a tourist spot so shortly after the death of 16 people could come off as insensitive, Hitchmough warned.

However, if communication plans are managed properly and the government is able to outline a long-term commitment then there will be a positive impact.

“The government will also have to actively demonstrate that the funds are being utilised properly and for the people – be it either via education of the public during crisis situations or reconstruction efforts,” he added.

“While I don’t think it would draw in a huge crowd, there will definitely be a niche crowd coming in to see the attraction,” he added.


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