Text by Sari Widiati    Photos by Jan Dekker

Environmental issues are receiving more and more attention, and Indonesia’s tourism industry is no exception. On Sikuai, a beautiful island lying in Bungus Bay, 23 km south of the city of Padang in West Sumatra, on 20 February well-known entertainers such as Christine Hakim, Tasman Taher and Henidar Amroe released turtles at the beach and planted coral reefs. This environmental awareness activity was initiated by the tour operator Sumatra and Beyond, in cooperation with www.west-sumatra.com and supported by the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA), the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), the Padang City Tourism Service, New Sikuai Islan Resort and Garuda Indonesia to promote the Padang area as a Green Tourism Destination.

Sumatra and Beyond’s founder, Ridwan Tulus, said that the coral reef planting and turtle release programs have been under way since 2000; this was followed by the establishment of the Green Tourism Institute in 2007. “This is part of our responsibility as a tour operator; we feel that Indonesia’s tourism sector has long neglected the environmental aspect,” says Ridwan, a Padang native who was designated one of the 10 Youth Leaders of Southeast Asia and an International Youth Leader by UNESCO Japan.

The Institute is being developed to publicize, advocate, educate, and provide information and skills to members of the tourism industry so that tourism practices in Indonesia, especially in West Sumatra, will always bear in mind the principles and standards of green tourism.

Ridwan acknowledges that most players in Indonesia’s tourism sector are still far removed from thinking about the environment, but asserts it’s not too late to start. What was done at Sikuai island is one example of his efforts; starting on a small scale, but with a definite target.
Sikuai is just one of the many spots in the tourism region along the coastal area from Padang southward, together with the Pinang River and Marak and Sironjong islands, that are now examples of green tourism, with underwater gardens being developed in its waters.

In applying the concepts of green tourism, Ridwan emphasizes four basic principles. Protect the culture: all visitors are given basic information so that they understand and respect the local culture and feel happy interacting with and blending into the local community. Protect the nature: overcome the type of tourism development that tends to destroy nature, by creating situations where visitors enjoy the area and feel proud to participate in activities with a positive impact on nature.

Bring benefit to local people: actively involve and educate the local community to welcome visitors, so that they receive direct benefits from the tourism business. And finally, uphold conservation.

As part of these efforts to make West Sumatra, and Indonesia, a green tourism destination, Ridwan hopes to make Indonesia an international walking destination by 2010. This inspiration came from his many wonderful experiences as a walker. Ridwan founded IndonesiaWalk, the only walking organization in Southeast Asia registered with the International Federation of Popular Sports. He also walked around the Japanese island Kyushu in 2002, and wrote about this journey in his book Kyushu Romance Walking, which is published in Japanese.