More tourism villages are in store as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has announced plans to expand its funding program across 450 villages in 2011, up from 200 this year.
Winarno Sudjas, secretary of destinations’ development at the ministry, said chosen villages would receive up to Rp 150 million ($16,500) to develop their proposals, up from Rp 50 million last year.
“Indonesia still has so much unharnessed potential for tourism, including small villages, such as how farmers plow their fields,” Winarno said.
“Through this program, we hope to empower local economies,” he said.
The ministry will select the villages for the grants after reviewing their proposals.
The community-based program, which began two years ago, provides direct grants to villages to help them develop their tourism sector through the National Program for Community Development (PNPM).
There have been may successes. Candirejo village, near Borobudur Temple in Central Java, hosted 3,000 visitors last year, most of them foreigners, and banked about Rp 200 million.
“Before we were all just farmers. Now we have this extra income. We are fortunate to be near Borobudur,” said the village’s tourism manager, Tatak.
A quaint village overlooking the temple and with views of the five mountains in the region, Candirejo has been a tourism village since 2003, but Tatak said the PNPM funding helped.
The grant was used to fix more homes to host visitors, buy machinery for local industries and boats for rafting, as well as to train locals in tourism management and English.
“We used to do everything by hand and it took hours and was very hard work,” said craftsman Purwanto, who lives in a neighboring village, proudly showing off the PNPM-funded woodworking equipment. “Now it takes seconds and the quality of the products is much better.”
Candirejo offers village tours, outdoor activities, traditional gamelan and karawitan performances, as well as short lessons for tourists who want to learn to harvest rice or play the traditional musical instruments.
“It was just interesting to see how the locals live their lives — the tools they use, and just the self-sufficiency of it all,” said tourist Lucy Lidbury, from Britain, as she got off a horse-drawn carriage after touring bamboo-walled homes.
“It is something else to really see the country that you’re in,” said another British tourist, Dan Sutherland, after a crash course in the gamelan. “You have to get out of the air-conditioned hotels or buses to see the country.”
Villages without a world heritage site, however, have had to be more creative. Take Pentingsari village in Yogyakarta.
Tucked away in the natural beauty of Sleman district, the village has turned its creeks, hills and fields into tourist attractions.
“What we offer is very simple,” said the village’s tourism marketing director, Doto Yogantoro. “We already have rice fields, so why not have the visitors see how we work or even try to plow the fields with us?”
Residents also take visitors on treks through the wilderness and organize trips up Merapi volcano.
The village used the PNPM funding to build toilets, improve homestays and pave roads. In 18 months, Pentingsari has hosted almost 10,000 visitors and reaped Rp 420 million, which is shared among the residents.
“The main principle is empowering our people. For example, the tour guides were builders in the city earning just Rp 30, 000 a day. But as tourist guides they earn the same amount in three hours,” Doto said. “Besides, we really just want to share the local culture with our visitors.”
Though the attractions are simple, Pentingsari won this year’s tourism village competition in Yogyakarta.
“Now we’re expanding to traditional cuisine since the women in the village thought of making and selling traditional snacks. Some farmers are considering selling fertilizers and native plants,” Doto said.
Unfortunately, not every village has been successful. Pajangan in Yogyakarta is one of the many struggling tourism villages. Hoping to promote local art and music, the village spent its entire PNPM budget on a gamelan set, district organizer Rudi said. It now lies gathering dust at the back of the village chief’s house.
“Pajangan does have potential,” Rudi said. “But for now, the gamelan set is still not complete, let alone other facilities.”
Another troubled village is Borobudur. Despite having the temple next door, scattered privatized management and poor bureaucracy leave its villagers among the poorest in the regency.
“It’s a shame. We have Borobudur, but the locals still have to scrape for money selling small souvenirs at kiosks,” village chief Maladi said. “Eventually we hope tourism in Borobudur will become a true community effort.”