Developing Ecotourism in Indonesia: Lesson-learned from Japan

Japan’s vision on ecotourism embraces natural preservation

The Japan Tourism Agency has set a target of attracting 20 million foreign visitors a year by 2020. To that end, the tourism policy of Japan develops activities related to tourism and raises awareness of the important social, cultural and economic significance of tourism. These are reflected in Japan’s policy towards environmental protection as a part of the tourism industry and tourist locations development. In this regard, Indonesia can learn much from Japan on developing ecological tourism.


Ecological tourism in Japan

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecological tourism, or ecotourism, as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel.

Japan Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as tourism that utilizes local resources like nature, history, and culture. Ecotourism must conserve these resources by tourism by appropriate management, and it combines conservation of resources + tourism + promotion of the local, which target is to upgrade local economy within the framework of appropriate utilization of local resources. In one sense, ecotourism is an attempt to pursue the twin goals of economic growth and protected areas by tying both goals together.

The legal basis of protected areas in Japan is the Natural Parks Law. The law aims to conserve scenic areas and their ecosystems, to promote their utilization, and to contribute to the health, recreation and environmental education of the people. According to the Ministry of the Environment there are 28 National Parks in Japan, and about 370 million people visit them every year. In some areas of these national park and protected areas there are some serious problems due to over-use such as erosion, human waste in mountains, and traffic jam. Therefore, the ministry of the environment started to promote various projects for sustainable tourism in National Parks, such as regulating the number of automobiles in 25 areas, maintaining mountain trails and vegetation restoration along them, subsidies for constructing toilets in mountain areas, and creation of the system of regulated utilization areas.

Additional legal basis for ecotourism in Japan is the Ecotourism Law was developed of 2007. The law defines the government must establish a policy on promoting ecotourism. To promote and establish ecotourism, the Ecotourism Promotion Committee, to oversee ecotourism promotion measures.

The Ministry of the Environment is one of the leading and responsible governmental sections to promote ecotourism in Japan. It conducted ecotourism feasibility studies in some parks in 1990, and selected Iriomote Island in Iriomote Ishigaki National Park, Okinawa as a model ecotourism development site in 1991. The Ministry has published several policy documents for ecotourism promotion since 2004. The latest document was published in March 2008 and describes governmental official policy to promote ecotourism (The Ministry of the Environment, 2008).

Another good example for an ecotourism site in Japan is the “Oze” in Nagano prefecture National Parks in Japan are designated by Minister of the Environment regardless of landownership (private or public); therefore, they are managed by the Ministry of the Environment in cooperation with other ministries, local governments and the private sector.

Approaches to developing ecotourism

Head of JNTO Jakarta Office

In developing ecotourism, Japan adopts a top-down approach, in which the central government plays more active role in setting up rules and regulations to be implemented by other stakeholders, including local government and communities. This approach gives clear direction for implementation and define the boundaries of ecotourism development.

Nonetheless, the development of ecotourism in Japan, not only aimed to preserve valuable tourism destinations, but more importantly the government encourages participation from all stakeholders. Various actors in Japan’s tourism sector, including local public bodies, residents and the tourism industry are involved in the implementation of the ecological tourism.

The other approach is the bottom-up approach of community-based ecotourism which is a type of tourism that, recognizing the significant social, environmental and economic impacts tourism can have, primarily focuses on tourism’s benefits to the local communities. Its emphasis is on community ownership of ecotourism the consensus from local community on how to develop ecotourism. In the long-run community-based ecotourism will guarantee the sustainability of the project. This model has been implemented in other Asian countries, such as Thailand and India.

Policy recommendation for Indonesia

This bottom-up approach is more suitable for Indonesia, taking into consideration its decentralized nature and the need to develop local communities’ economy. However, due to lack of clear national policy on ecotourism in Indonesia, Indonesia also need to adopt the Japan model of top-down approach. This will also ensure concrete benefits for the local community and promote support from all stakeholders.

However, Japan with its well-developed ecological tourism, could assist in developing Indonesia’s capability to manage its ecotourism sites. Indonesia can learn from Japan in areas, such as:

Policy and regulation

  1. Identification and promotion of principles of comprehensive ecotourism.
  2. Manual for promoting ecotourism to introduce procedures and main points of ecotourism promotion.
  3. Harmonization of regulations related to ecotourism at national and regional levels.

Promotion measures

  1. Developing communication and information strategy for ecotourism such as tour programs, accommodations, and transportations.
  2. Ecotourism Award for agencies and local communities who promote ecotourism.
  3. Implementation of ecotourism model projects supported by the governmennt in cooperation with the private sector.


Japanese model of developing ecotourism is a lesson-learned for Indonesia. It is based on the commitment by the government to strengthen ecotourism regulations, development of clear ecotourism concept and its implementation, as well as the involvement of all stakeholders including local communities. However, Indonesia’s approach to ecotourism should be developed in accordance to its unique characteristics with inputs from Japan’s experience.

In this context, Japan’s experience in tourism and maintaining environment for ecotourism is an opportunity for bilateral cooperation with Indonesia.

**Group blog by Budhi Prihantoro, Cherry Sidharta, Edi Suharto, Edy Wardoyo, Raden Sigit Witjaksono





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