Labuan Bajo is ready to welcome the ASEAN Summit participants and provide a memorable experience for all delegates.
Since President Joko Widodo designated Labuan Bajo as one of the five super-priority tourism destinations on 15 July 2019, massive infrastructure development has been carried out in this capital of West Manggarai Regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Province.
The other four destinations are Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Borobudur Temple in Central Java, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara, and Likupang in North Sulawesi.
Labuan Bajo lies on the coast of Flores Sea, on the western part of Flores Island, the largest of three main islands of NTT besides Sumba and the western part of Timor.
According to data from the Population and Civil Registration Directorate General of the Home Affairs Ministry in 2021, Labuan Bajo is inhabited by 6,973 people.
The 13.79 km2 city is special because it has a world-famous conservation in one of its administrative areas. The conservation is called the Komodo National Park with its main islands of Komodo Island, Rinca Island, Padar Island, Gili Motang, Nusa Kode, and several other small islands.
The conservation center is in the Komodo Subdistrict. It is located at the westernmost part of Flores Island and is separated from the island by Molo Strait, which has strong currents as it is the meeting point of the Sumba Strait and the Flores Sea.
It takes about two hours to reach the 1,817 km2 national park through the Flores Sea. The genus of the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), a giant prehistoric lizard, has been around for about 40 million years.
Currently, there are around 2,793 Komodo dragons and they are only found on Rinca Island (1,336), Komodo Island (1,288), Nusa Kode (86), and Gili Motang (83). However, Michael Hutchins in his book “Komodo Dragons” estimated that the population was around 4,000–5,000 in 1980.
The species is highly vulnerable to extinction. It is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This long-tailed carnivore was first scientifically documented by the Bogor Zoological Museum Director, Pieter Antonie Ouwens, in 1912.
The Dutch scientist published a paper after receiving reports of the discovery of a giant lizard measuring 6–7 meters in length accompanied by photographic evidence and skin specimens from Lieutenant Colonel Jacques van Steyn van Hensbrok of the Dutch colonial administration. The article about ora, the Manggarai tribe’s name for the lizard, led researcher Douglas W. Burden to embark on an expedition to Komodo Island in 1926.
He collected 12 preserved specimens and 2 live ones for research purposes. Burden was also the one who coined the name Komodo dragon for this giant lizard native to Indonesia.
Burden’s expedition provided the inspiration for the 1933 movie King Kong. Since then, the world has been curious and many people have come to see the giant prehistoric lizard from Indonesia.
According to data from the West Manggarai Tourism, Creative Economy, and Culture Agency, around 60,770 foreign tourists visited Labuan Bajo throughout 2022 to see the Komodo dragons. This number was lower compared to 2019 when there were 256,609 visits to Labuan Bajo from international tourists.
The decline was mainly caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This has resulted in the closure of all tourist attractions, including the Komodo National Park. Therefore, the designation of Labuan Bajo as the host of the 42nd ASEAN Summit on 9–11 May 2023 serves as an effort by the government to restore Labuan Bajo’s reputation as a world-class tourist destination.
“Labuan Bajo is a complete package. It has cultural attractions, beautiful scenery, wonderful beaches, and Komodo dragons, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It can be found on Komodo Island and Rinca Island. We must use such strengths to improve the welfare of our people here,” said President Joko Widodo in Labuan Bajo on 21 July 2022.
Approximately 1,000 delegates from 10 ASEAN countries with the addition of Timor-Leste are estimated to attend the summit in Labuan Bajo. This number does not include around 1,500 foreign journalists. Indonesia holds the ASEAN chairmanship in 2023 and this is the fifth time for Indonesia after 1976, 1996, 2003, and 2011. The theme for the 2023 ASEAN Summit is “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”.
Writer: Anton Setiawan
Editors: Ratna Nuraini/Elvira Inda Sari/Penny P. Rusman
Translator: Wisnu Wardoyo
Photo: The genus of the Komodo dragon or Varanus komodoensis has been around since 40 million years ago. Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy (KEMENPAREKRAF)