A morning view of Maumere Bay in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. (JG Photo/Dion Bisara)

Qatari Emir's Visit Brings High Hopes for Flores Tourism Breakthrough

BY : YOSEPH A KELEN

JUNE 09, 2019

Jakarta. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, paid a visit to Flores Island in East Nusa Tenggara last week in what provincial authorities hope would further promote tourism in the region. 

Al Thani and his entourage arrived on two private jets in Maumere, the island's largest city, on Friday. The visitors spent most of their time on a yacht, which arrived earlier, exploring the coral reefs of Maumere Bay amid tight security.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed us about the arrival of the group from Qatar. They requested that their visit not be covered by the media, nor they be hosted by the Sikka district government. The group arranged its own security," Event Edomeko, a spokesman for Sikka's regional development agency, said on Saturday. 

Al-Thani reportedly became interested in Flores after hearing about the natural beauty of the island from Qatari athletes who participated in the Tour de Flores, an international cycling race the island hosted in 2016 and 2017, Event said.

The emir left Maumere on Saturday but the local government hopes the impact of his trip will be long-lasting, the spokesman said. He added that the emir had promised to return to Maumere because the bay and the coral reefs are unique compared with other regions he had visited. 

"The 24-hour visit by the emir of Qatar should have a very significant impact on tourism in East Nusa Tenggara," Event said. "Although the visit was supposed to be closed to journalists, it was still covered by the media everywhere." 

In a meeting with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo during his first state visit to Indonesia in 2017, Al-Thani expressed strong interest by the oil-rich Gulf state to invest in infrastructure and tourism in the archipelago. 

Last year, the Qatari government signed a memorandum of understanding to invest $500 million in Mandalika, a special economic zone focused on resort tourism in Sumbawa, a neighboring island of Flores.

Flores is home to several world-renowned attractions, including the three volcanic crater lakes of Mount Kelimutu, which each has a different color, and Liang Bua Cave, a prehistoric site of Homo floresiensis, an extinct species of tiny human.

The island's westernmost town of Labuan Bajo is the main gateway to the Komodo National Park, a sanctuary for the world's largest living species of lizard. President Jokowi has identified the town as one of the 10 main tourism regions the country plans to develop over the next few years.

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