Has Borobodur Become Too Expensive For Foreign Visitors ?

A bit of calculation about foreign visitors in Borobodur

Ever increasing entrance fees

If you have been travelling in Indonesia during the last 10 years, you have probably witnessed a steep inflation of some entrance fees. I came up with the idea for this article when stopping by Yogyakarta in June 2018. I thought about paying a second visit to Borobodur and Prambanan, and then I realized that a foreigner now had to pay 20$ for each entrance (I paid 30’000Rp when I visited the first time, I was entitled to local price for having a stay permit at this time though).

Borobodur
Candi Borobodur’s famous stupa

I decided it was a bit exaggerated and changed my plan. Then I thought I might not be the only one doing that. And I went looking for data.

As far as I know here is the price history :

  • Until July 2012 foreigners entrance fee was 135’000Rp for Borobodur and 90’000Rp for Yogyakarta.
  • From July 2012 to May 2017 it was 190’000Rp for Borobodur and 170’000Rp for Prambanan (prices increased slightly in January 2013 following an adjustement of the calculation).
  • From May 2017 both temples entrances are charged 325’000Rp each.

Declining visiting rate

Then I went looking for visitor statistics for Prambanan and Borobodur temples and compared them to the visitors statistics of Yogyakarta (which I think is a good proxy of the total visitors coming in this part of Java) :

In the early 2010 virtually every visitors in Yogyakarta paid a visit to Borobodur and most of them to Prambanan.

From 2013 and the first significant increase, the numbers of visitors in Prambanan stagnated while both Borobodur and Yogyakarta kept growing. It may suggest that a portion of tourist was skipping Prambanan due to the more expensive entrance ticket.

From 2017 and the second price increase, the trend got stronger. Finding official visiting statistics for 2018 was quite hard, not much was published by the time of writing this article. Yet the ministry of tourism talks about 250’000 foreign visitors in Borobodur (Tempo) but in the local press the regency of Magelang gives only 192’231 (TribunJogja)

Such a stagnation or even decline is not surprising, given that half of foreign visitors in the region are millenials (Kontan), which I guess are more budget-savy.

From a financial point of view, the first increase was clearly a success. Based on the number of visitors and historical price it is easy to estimate that the 2012 new prices generated almost double revenues from foreign visitors (from 35bn IDR per year to 70-80bn IDR per year).

Yet I’m afraid that this time, the policy won’t be as sucessful. First figures from 2018 suggest a sharp drop in foreign visitors. And based on my personnal experience, a huge majority of tourists in Java only visit once. Many of them are eager to later return to Indonesia, but to explore another island.

Transforming the current ticket system

The government officials ackowledge the decline in foreign visitors for Prambanan and Borobodur but they keep repeating that the solution is in the building of a new international airport and more marketing (Tempo).

The main argument is that Angkor Vat charges now close to $40 for a day and welcomes about 2,6 millions foreign visitors. I would answer that Angkor Wat is a very large area featuring dozens of sites, and usually tourist stay a couple of day there.

My personal opinion is that the entrance fees of Borobodur and Prambanan have become simply too high for a significant share of visitors.

Given the Indonesian character, I don’t believe the government would be ready to decrease the current prices. Nonetheless, I think it would be fair to at least include more entrances in the current tickets.

There are many other minor temples around Borobodur and Prambanan (like Plaosan, Ratu Boko, Mendut or Sojiwan), all of them charging an additional fee (10’000Rp to 20’000Rp for foreign visitors).

Why not make the current Borobodur + Prambanan 500’000Rp combo ticket valid for a week and transform it in a pass for all temples of the area ?

Today minor temples are very seldomly visited by foreign visitors, there is not much to loose by renouncing to the mere entrance fees they generate while this could encourage longer duration of stay in the region, with associated revenue in forms of accomodation, food and transport.

Indonesia’s ambitious target for tourism

The situation with Central Java and Yogyakarta’s landmark attraction is to put in the context of Indonesia’s great ambitions regarding its tourism sector

In 2018, Indonesia’s welcomed nearly 16 millions foreign tourists (Jakarta Post), missing the inital target of 18 millions. It is likely that the target would have been achieved without the bad press generated by successive natural disasters (Mount Agung alert status in Bali, earthquakes in Lombok and Central Sulawesi and a tsunami in Banten).

President Joko Widodo’s 2019 target for national tourism is to reach 20 millions visitors per year (while Thailand welcomes more than 35 millions person/year). For that the government plans to replicate the model of Bali in another ten selected destinations by improving transport infrastructure, tourism amenities and heavy promotions (Straits Time).

Most of the efforts have been concentrated on Lake Toba, Borobodur, Labuan Bajo and Mandalika (South Lombok). As of 2017, Wakatobi was still pretty calm for instance.

Airports have been upgraded for all destinations (a new one was even built in Silangit South of Lake Toba). In South Lombok, the change is drastic : the beachfront of Kuta have been entirely rebuilt, luxury hotels and villas are popping up everywhere and a motor GP track is under construction.

Lombok construction Mandalika
Lombok, a few hundred meters from the historic Novotel Kuta. This is the situation as of 2018, herds and cranes

Besides South Lombok and Labuan Bajo, I’m quite sceptical about the prospects of other destinations. I don’t think they have what it takes to become leading tourism hotspots. Many people have been coming back to Bali every year since 2 decades, I don’t see the same things happening for Morotai or Belitung.

Lake Toba statistics are already lagging far behind expectations (Jakarta Post), Lombok too (but the earthquake had a major impact of 2018 statistics, Jakarta Post). In Labuan Bajo, tourism is booming and the natural environment is having trouble to cope with it (South China Morning Post).

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