Padar Island, Indonesia : Would you pay $1,000 to see a dragon? Indonesia wants to charge the fee to visit Komodo, but the locals are furious.

The tourists arrived by the boatload, ready to climb 900 steps to the summit of remote Padar Island for their sunrise reward : a sweeping vista of turquoise bays set off by white-sand beaches.

In the distance, they could see Komodo Island, where the world's largest lizard, the fearsome Komodo dragon, roams freely, evoking the age of the dinosaurs.

This is one of the most dramatic scenes that Indonesia offers. Bit for many would-be visitors, it is about to become a lot more expensive.

The Indonesian government plans to raise the entrance fee for the most popular parts of Komodo National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site made up of 29 islands, including the five that are home to the endangered dragon.

The new price : $1,000 for a group of one to four visitors, up from as little as $10 for foreigners and 32 cents for Indonesians.

When the fee increase was suddenly announced in late July, the news set off a trike by tourism workers, street protests joined by 1,000 people and a wave of tourist cancellations in Labuan Bajo, a coastal town on the northwestern tip of Flores Island that is the jumping off point for the park.

It is one of several controversies stemming from the government's efforts to bolster tourism, which before the pandemic made up 5 percent of the economy.

Some say the move to make a quick return by raising the price of Komodo - a crown jewel in the national park system - has backfired, pushing the once thriving industry in eastern Indonesia to the brink of collapse.

''If there are no tourists, I won't make any money,'' said Ariansyah, a guide on Komodo Island, who like many other Indonesians, uses one name and who joined the protests against the new fee.

''Everyone opposes the ticket price increase because it will ruin our livelihood.''

The World Students Society thanks author Richard C. Paddock.


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