Tourism Prospect in the ‘Black Pearl’ of Melanesian Archipelago

Melanesia comes from the Greek language, meaning ‘black islands’, referring to the inhabitants of the region who mostly have dark skin. The original occupants of Melanesia are likely the ancestor of the current Papuan language-speaking people. They are thought to be Negroid with tall and dark-skinned features, and black, kinky hair.

Melanesia region extends from the western side of the eastern Pacific islands to the Arafura Sea, through the north and northeast of Australia. There are around 2,000 islands in a 386,000 square miles total land area in the Melanesian archipelago. These exotic islands, with their rich cultures, have become a popular destination for people who seek for adventure.

Indonesian regions that traditionally considered as a part of Melanesia are Maluku islands and West Papua and Papua province. While people in other eastern parts of Indonesia such as Timor, Flores, and Sumba islands do not necessarily identify themselves as Melanesian due to their mixed ancestry, as well as people in Halmahera, Alor, and Pantar islands. However, the influence of the Melanesian culture which makes the culture of these islands richer.

Just like any other islands in Melanesian archipelago which have splendid beauty, West Papua, which is often called as the ‘black pearl island’ also offers a mesmerizing landscape. From its dramatic topography, dazzling-clean beaches and seas, unique big cities, vast jungles, to the ice-covered mountains in Jayawijaya, West Papua offers you numerous things to explore.

Who doesn’t recognize Raja Ampat? Known to be one of the most beautiful island chains in region Southeast Asia by many travelers around the world, the sparsely populated islands’ landscape consists of the jungle-covered mainland, divine scenery of steep, sizzling white-sand beaches and islets, spooky caves, hidden lagoons, and clear turquoise waters.

Apart from its unadulterated beauty, Raja Ampat also has abundant wildlife. It has a magnificent biological hotspot coral reef and a diversity of marine life. If you go deeper into the forest, you will find many species of bird of paradise dancing in the branch of the trees. The exotic birds have long inhabited the island. Based on historical data, back when Papua belong to the Srivijaya Kingdom, King Sri Indrawarman presented the birds to the emperor of China as a gift. Various conservation efforts should be undertaken so that we can see the beauty of the birds in their own habitat for a long time.

And for those who seek a more challenging experience, climbing Puncak Jaya or Carstensz Pyramid in Mount Jayawijaya, the highest island peak in the world, could be one of the best options. Who says there is no snow in the tropics? You can find it wraps the top of Papua Island.

These qualities that the island have, have attracted many tourists both from local and international to visit the island. Indonesian Ministry of Tourism recorded that in 2017, 3.5 million foreign tourists have come to Papua and West Papua province. The most favorite destinations in Papua province are Wamena, Biak, Mimika, Merauke, Jayapura, Asmat, and some districts in the central mountain, while Raja Ampat, Sorong, Teluk Bintuni, and Manokwari become the most favorite spots to visit on West Papua province.

As Indonesian government has enacted a free-visa policy for some countries to visit Indonesian region, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism also increased the targeted foreign tourists to come to Papua Island into 100.000 visitors in 2019.

However, there are still problems that the local government face and need to fix if they are planning to maximize the Papua and West Papua tourism potential. The biggest problem lies within the geographical feature of Papua Island which makes it difficult to access many parts of the island by land transportation. You can reach isolated places by plane, but it will cost you a fortune.

Apart from the above problem, the prolonged conflicts between Indonesian government and separatists make Papua being considered as a red area, where restricted access to the area is applied for foreigners.

Fortunately, President Jokowi has prioritized the development of infrastructure in Papua and West Papua province in his cabinet agenda. Among Jokowi’s ambitious development plans is the Trans Papua highway, which is expected to start operating by 2018; the electrification throughout Papua and West Papua by 2019; and building seaports as a part of sea toll road program. The amount of the government spent on this program is adequately significant. In 2016, Jokowi allocated Rp85.7 trillion to fund many development projects in Papua and West Papua.

Local government has issued a more sustainable development policy in many aspects of the development in Papua Island to reduce its negative impacts on the environment. The government also changed its approach to keeping Papua and West Papua province safe through spiritual and cultural approaches.

Those are some of Indonesian and local government attempts to make Papua more reachable for locals and tourists. This improvement will later contribute to the enhancement of the welfare of local people in Papua.