People from all over the globe are putting Flores on their ‘must see’ list - with its unspoiled beauty, incredible diving experiences, the Komodo National Park and enough undiscovered and off the tourist path adventures to keep any intrepid traveller happy - it’s fast becoming the hottest travel destination. With this increase in tourist numbers, comes increased pressure on the resources of Flores and its fragile ecosystem. We recently met with some people who are determined to see Flores set an example for other developing regions on how to successfully and sustainably manage tourist growth, create jobs for locals, and preserve the spectacular environment for generations to come.
Politeknik eLBajo Commodus is the first ever college to open in Labuan Bajo, officially opening its doors on the 1st March, 2019 to students looking to further their education in hospitality and tourism. Demand was so high that the college started taking enrolments and offering classes before the official opening, with students squeezing into two of the finished rooms in September 2018. The college was the idea of Ibu Novi, who on a visit to Flores, realised that there was nowhere for students to complete any higher education in the region. This meant that local students were being lost from Flores as they were forced to travel to other parts of Indonesia to pursue education, often staying on to find employment. Ibu Novi saw the need for a local college to provide courses in hospitality and tourism to meet the demands of the growing tourism industry in Flores, and more importantly, to train students in ecotourism and sustainable practices to ensure a healthy future for Flores.
The Politeknik includes classrooms, IT facilities, a commercial kitchen large enough to be in any five-star hotel, restaurant, edu-hotel, and library, with further extensions planned. Next semester will see 300 students enrolled, with the plan to be able to accommodate 500 students each semester. Currently the college offers diplomas in hospitality and ecotourism, with coursework divided between practical components (around 60%) and theory (around 40%). In the new academic year of 2019, the students can also enrol in Information Technology, Tax Accounting and International Marketing courses; and in 2020 Ibu Novi says the college will be offering 10 different study programs. Students must graduate in the four core areas of study, before specialising in their chosen field, choosing from a range of courses like food and beverage, housekeeping, hotel management or becoming a chef. Students who complete the course receive a Diploma of Ecotourism, as well as a certificate in their specialist area. Classes are conducted in Indonesian and in English, meaning that students learn to speak English proficiently, plus they must learn French and Mandarin. Every Wednesday, the entire campus has a ‘must speak English’ day, as they recognise how vital it is to be able to speak fluent English in the hospitality industry.
All of this, incredibly, is privately funded. The school receives no government funding, but instead is funded by Ibu Novi who looks for sponsors and donors, empties her own pockets or reaches out to family and friends. Her brother, Teddy Halim, offers significant support as he sits as Director of the campus.
Ibu Novi believes that education is a life-changing investment that empowers people and their communities to build better lives. This is a sentiment echoed by the students, who took The Voice of Flores on a tour of the campus and told us that the greatest power is in education. Aloysius Sudartin Karya, also known to his friends as Louis, is a current student who told us that the opportunity to study and learn skills without leaving Flores, was a huge privilege, and inspires him to continue to work hard. Louis already has a successful business in Flores, and a family to support, but he knows that getting a higher education will mean that he has even more opportunities to build his career and provide for this family.
Ibu Novi believes that the ecotourism college will help to protect the future of Flores and the spectacular natural beauty that draws increasing numbers of tourists every year. This belief in the importance of education to build a sustainable tourism industry from the ground up, shapes the ethos and every aspect of the college. Students are expected to provide their own water bottles, refilling them at stations around the campus, and plastic water bottles can’t be found anywhere on campus in an attempt to reduce their use and educate about the destructive impact of single use plastics.
The college wants to set an example to the rest of the world, and in particular, developing regions, as to how to best manage tourism and hospitality responsibly, with minimal impact on fragile ecosystems. While the college currently offers only hospitality and ecotourism diplomas, they hope to extend and add accounting and IT courses, once construction of the campus is completed. When all 15 classrooms are eventually built and finished, they are hopeful that student numbers will swell to around 1000 students, and already, they have had great interest and many enquiries about evening and after-hours classes.
It’s an inspiring project, and a greatly positive step towards managing the growing influx of tourists, so that the people of Flores, and their environment can benefit for many years to come.
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