The blue flames seep out from the cracks under the crater of the Mount Ijen volcano in Banyuwangi, East Java. Glowing eerily, the inextinguishable blue light is not just one of nature’s eternal flames; it’s also one of the most rare natural phenomena in the world today.
“[Mount Ijen’s blue flames] are one of only two in the world, along with another blue flame in Finland. Like so many wonders in Indonesia, it’s better known among foreigners than Indonesians,” said intrepid traveler Bramantya “Bram,” Sakti, who seeks to spread word about the flames to other Indonesians.
“Banyuwangi also has three national parks, including the Baluran National Park, which is known for its savanna landscape,” Bram said.
The area is also a surfing mecca, like Bali. Last year, Banyuwangi’s Pulau Merah Beach hosted an international surfing competition.
“But most of all,” Bram added, “Banyuwangi’s welcoming people, untrammeled natural beauty and proximity to Bali give it enormous tourist potential that has yet to be realized.”
Banyuwangi is one of the little explored gems of Indonesia which Bram would like to draw Indonesian travelers, too, with his online travel services company TripTrus.
Founded in 2011, TripTrus aims to ease the way for travelers seeking to go to little known exotic locales like Banyuwangi, Bawean and Wakatobi, as well as more iconic destinations like Komodo Island and Raja Ampat.
“At first glance, we might seem like a travel agent, as our website, http://www.TripTrus.com, features trips to various destinations or how to get there. However, we’re more like tokobagus.com — but for travel services,” said Bram, who added that travel routes and maps are provided in TripTrus’ services.
“But while TokoBagus is a commerce hub that connects businesses with their customers, we are a travel service hub that connects credible travel operators with travelers, particularly backpackers or budget travelers.”
“Among the services we offer travel operators are ways to link them to travelers so that they can book the trips and itineraries and get reviews for their experience. As for the travelers, 70 percent of whom are from Jakarta, we help them organize their trips by date, budget and destination, as well as paying for the trips through us. They will then spread the word through reviews and photos, making for a travelers’ community.”
The website, Bram said, also has an online marketplace that sells travel accessories and other items, in line with its standing as a travel services hub.
TripTrus also bolstered its standing in the field by forging partnerships with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Destinasi Indonesia magazine.
“Our focus is mostly on local places overlooked by conventional travel agents or government organized tourist fairs focusing on iconic Indonesian destinations like Bali, Lombok and Yogyakarta or trips to Asia, Europe and the Middle East,” Bram said.
“A number of travel operators under our wing do offer adventurous destinations in Southeast Asia like Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar, but that’s part of their package,” Bram said, adding that among the more than 250 travel operators under TripTrus’s umbrella are Kill Kill Adventure, Rajawisata and Blakrax Trip Organizer.
“Travel in Indonesia has been revolutionized by budget airlines like AirAsia as well as the use of social media, smartphones and other gadgets.”
“Like its tourist sites, Indonesia’s domestic tourist market also has tremendous potential because of the country’s large middle class, about 50 million of whom are between the ages of 17 to 50. Their youthful spirit is reflected in their keenness to dive, climb, or try out new activities like cave tubing and body rafting,” Bram said.
“Many of them are also tech and social media savvy, from which they are likely to find the ideas for their latest destinations; their diversity is also reflected in the sort of travelers who use our services, as they include adventurous tourists, outbound corporate outings, as well as families.”
But Bram noted that provincial governments, who are key in unleashing this potential, have yet to realize it.
“Provincial governments are still reluctant to work with us because they have their own promoters, or perhaps this is because they still regard us as startups. Often they promote their sites on TV and other media, but they’ll get stumped when people ask information on how to get there, as well as the travel itinerary, access or bed and board,” he sighed.
“On the other hand, they’ll have more elbow room if they cooperate with TripTrus because we can disseminate the essential information and know-how to more people. While they might see
promotion as part of their budget, for us that’s part of our marketing strategy.”
But he said there’s still hope, as officials like Banyuwangi district head Azwar Anas started to facilitate tourism by building paved roads and railroads as well as a new airport.
While Bram is aware that many travelers are concerned about the journey or accommodations, he’s aware that they are wary of excessive costs or of getting ripped off.
“There are cases where travelers are charged by an ojek motorcycle taxi up to Rp 500,000 [$38] to get them to their accommodation. Unpaved roads or areas inaccessible by land that force travelers to go there by boat are also daunting
prospects,” he said.
“For instance, Pahawang Island and Kiluan Bay in Lampung has been popular with travelers from Jakarta, who flock there on weekends and holidays to snorkel and watch dolphins in its waters on clear mornings. It would have had the potential to attract more people if the [South Sumatra] provincial government had fixed the roads, reducing the number of hours from the crossing of Merak to Bakauheni, from 10 to three.”
“But most of all, we hope to develop Indonesia’s tourism industry by empowering local people, which is a vital part of the chain.”
“We emulated couch surfing networks, where the travelers get to stay with local people and experience their hospitality firsthand,” Bram said.
“It provides visitors with an authentic experience and enables the locals to conserve their culture as well as share it with others. In this sense we differ from
TripAdvisor, to which we are similar to in that the traveler writes reviews.”
“We also enable people like fishermen to diversify their income. Like the travel sector in general, they’ll benefit, while the stimulus to develop that’s created will also encourage provincial governments to develop their area,” he said.
“We also set up an initiative to educate local peoples through our http://www.1Traveler1Book.org movement, which donates books to school libraries in the areas that they visit.”
Bram points out that TripTrus set out to be a travel consultant to promote various Indonesian destinations and help provincial governments with their marketing strategies to attract visitors there.
He acknowledged that challenges like bureaucratic red tape and high travel costs, particularly for the eastern parts of Indonesia will remain, but that TripTrus will tackle them.
What’s for certain is that if you plan to visit a remote part of Indonesia, TripTrus might just be the ticket. – The Peak