Photo of Budi Setiawan
Ashoka Fellow since 2022   |   Indonesia

Budi Setiawan

While ecotourism is a growing trend in the tourism industry, ownership of the industry stays with those who have the capital. Budi Setiawan has redefined ecotourism, by creating a new model that…
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This description of Budi Setiawan's work was prepared when Budi Setiawan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2022.


While ecotourism is a growing trend in the tourism industry, ownership of the industry stays with those who have the capital. Budi Setiawan has redefined ecotourism, by creating a new model that shifts the ownership to the community and creates practices that contribute to environmental restoration and conservation in Indonesia.

The New Idea

Amid the current trend of ecotourism done with high capital investment by private companies and done in an individual unit in the community, Budi Setiawan is creating a pattern of community-based ecotourism models owned by local and informal cooperatives where tourists have minimal impact on the environment and contribute to conservation practices. For example, by doing reforestation as a rehabilitation measure for post mining areas, Budi created new tourist destinations or recreation centers. It has also reduced pressures on the environment as the communities become the front liners and care takers of the environment. Budi harnesses the power of people and planet and brings balanced interests of the community and the environment.

These models require low investment from the community because they mobilize existing local resources. For example, in developing a marine resort, Budi mobilizes elderly who have culturally attractive old houses but are still in a good condition and set up as homestays. People who have boats would run sea taxis. Most people do this as a side income from their existing work. Especially at times of pandemic crisis, Budi helped communities create new alternative income such as cultivating forest honeybees, where the community keeps the forest protected while earning income from keeping honeybees. The alternative income streams of the models have made the communities economically resilient. With this, Budi is building a practice of social conglomerates in Indonesia to protect the environment from further destruction and communities from harm. By the practice, not only does he flip the concept of conglomerate, from private to social sector, but also of ownership from private to collective community.

Adding to the local resource mobilization model development, Budi applies an approach of “from nothing to something.” He led the environmental campaign and the promotion of re-establishing habitat for the endangered Belitung Tarcius (Cephalopachus Bancanus Saltator) – an endemic primate species of Belitung Island. After in-depth and lengthy research, Budi has succeeded in getting Belitung Tarcius listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) directory. This has made Belitung Island recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Geopark – a unified area that advances the protection and use of geological heritage in a sustainable way and promotes the economic well-being of the local people. Not only does he engage people to join the campaign, but Budi also has restored Belitung Tarcius’ habitat and established it as a tourist destination. By now, Budi has developed around 20 ecotourism destinations in the Bangka Belitung archipelago, of which six are already financially independent. Furthermore, there are five new destinations on other islands across Indonesia. Budi is also planning to replicate the model in the Southeast Asia including the Philippines. To give wider impact of the model, Budi is currently reviewing the Indonesia Ecotourism Roadmap requested to the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy.

The Problem

Although the growth of ecotourism, a type of tourism that centers on ecological conservation, has become one of the growing trends within the tourism industry, the practice still alienates local people from the sector. Currently, ecotourism contributes 35% of Indonesia's entire income from the tourism sector. Indonesia has many potential world-class ecotourism sites; however, many conflicts of interest remain a problem between the ecotourism businesses with local communities, especially about the benefits sharing and its accessibilities, let alone ownership of the business. Furthermore, the presence of ecotourism still contributes to negative impacts, both on the environment resources and on socio-cultural local values.

For ages, the Bangka Belitung archipelago, part of the Southeast Asia Tin Belt, became the center of tin mining operations, which made Indonesia the world’s biggest tin exporter. There was also land conversion of forest to palm oil plantation in the archipelago. Today, limited options for alternative incomes have become the major drive for local people to engage in the mining industry illegally. As a result, the Bangka-Belitung archipelago suffered from deforestation and failed post-mining reclamation, which led to the loss of habitat for endemic primate species such as the Belitung Tarcius. Even though there is a protected area dedicated to the habitat of endangered species, Belitung Tarcius has spread out to live in the community compounds and farmland. Unless special protective measures are taken, the species will continue to be in danger of extinction. Furthermore, the offshore tin mining has unfortunately polluted the sea and destroyed the coral reef. As a result, fish have become scarce, which triggers horizontal conflicts between fishers and miners over resources.

Tourism has become the focus of government development in the Bangka Belitung archipelago as an alternative to mining and palm oil plantations. However, unfortunately, the practice of tourism has made local people become more vulnerable due to transfer of community ownership of land, coastal areas and small islands, and local government assets to the investors. Many tourism businesses, unfortunately, label themselves as ecotourism although not in practice. Most often, both conventional tourism and ecotourism tend to control the upstream to downstream value chain businesses. In this industry, local people are hired as workers by the tourist company to supply services to the tourist consumers. Moreover, the tourist companies often do not include women, young people, or the elderly as they are considered unproductive. Tourist companies often jeopardize local customary laws that rule and guide how people live in harmony with nature.

Considering the environmental degradation and further threat for the future, there are no measures in educating the public to the importance of conserving the natural resources. Local governments and local people have limited engagement in remedial measures for post-mining reclamation, including protection and conservation of natural resources. In terms of economic development, people have not been exposed to the untapped local resource mobilization through ecotourism as the alternative income.

The Strategy

While ecotourism is used as merely a marketing label, Budi strengthens the community to own and manage community-based ecotourism, bringing local people to the forefront of concrete environmental conservation efforts. This pattern has brought an added value to the existing environmental civil society organizations that focus only either on confrontational advocacy or even ecofascist tendencies that focus on people as problems or obstacles to environmental progress.

Budi developed three interventions to achieve his vision of bringing the local community to the forefront of natural resource conservation while gaining economic benefits in return. The first intervention is to engage local communities from the very first step, to develop community-based ecotourism destination models that provide alternative income for the local people, especially local illegal miners and loggers. The models are developed as remedial measures for the already destroyed natural environment and conservation measures to protect natural resources from further destruction. The empowerment processes include community visioning, conducting resource mapping and community-based ecotourism business plan development, trial simulation and evaluation, community dialogue with key stakeholders to share roles and implement the social business, including securing the location, and mobilizing partnership through investments. The community handles setting up the organizing team, building a network, improving their skills, and building a sense of community ownership including profit sharing. In doing so, Budi’s model has enabled local communities to work directly with travelers, cutting off middlemen in the industry, so that the cost is lower and more of the profits go directly to the community. The model has increased resilience especially during the Covid pandemic because it is set as an alternative income stream.

With the slogan of “From Ridge to Reef,” Budi implements different community-based tourism models across the islands as his second intervention. At the entrance to the protected forest of Tajam Mountain, for example, Budi set up the tourist destination, Batu Mentas Natural Tourism of Belitung Island. The tourist destination offers people the chance to stay in an eco-lodge or camping ground, and try river tubing, forest trekking, zip-lining, forest canopy walking, and tarsiers watching. The site is managed and owned by the community in the protected forest buffer zone in partnership with the Forest Park Management. In addition, Budi has engaged 20 families of former illegal loggers who have now become pepper farmers and run pepper agrotourism. They also become tour guides during forest honeybee harvesting season, and guide jungle trekking and river tubing. Creatively, Budi set up this venue for the public to have a direct experience with nature, but also to do field monitoring to protect the forest from illegal loggers.

In the Kepayang Island of the archipelago, Budi empowered fisher communities to develop and own a community-based resort where it has an eco-lodge and a coral conservation and sea turtle conservation center. Budi worked with fisherfolks who conduct illegal fishing by bombing and using potassium to pay debts to loan sharks. The empowerment process is conducted through a purely business-to-business model where fisherfolks supply the ornamental fish and Budi and the organization buy the fish. The business was used as an entry point to gradually develop coral reef conservation and widen coral reef diving tours. These fisherfolk are trained in how to catch, pack, and send the fish. Three experts were brought in to train them in professional diving, making environmentally friendly fishing tools, and how to pack the fish. Fishers were also trained in how to follow the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) certification to enter the Europe market. Fishers are grouped to work together and by running the ornamental fish business, learn that keeping coral reefs provides economic value. They also learned in-depth about varied species of coral reef, and how to do coral reef transplantation and propagation. These fisherfolk have gone on to conduct coral reef replantation for 11,000 coral reefs in different spots on their own initiatives. They also become experts in diving and become certified dive guides.

Eventually, the fishing communities set up a diving center and formed a collaborative diving tour guide community. The fisherfolk also developed a turtle hatchery in the island to conserve the population of sea turtles and developed a group to manage the turtle conservation. The community-based resort has triggered other community members to make their houses as homestays. Many of them are senior citizens who own old architectural houses that have rich cultural value to tourists. Others opened restaurants as a business to supply meals for the incoming tourists. Those who have boats rent out water taxis. This community-based ecotourism has further opened job opportunities for guides, tourism companies, handicraft makers, car rental companies, and a host of other services. The purpose of the community-based resort is to protect the island and the marine resources away from offshore mining operations, but it also creates job opportunities and security for local islanders to move from unsustainable jobs as illegal miners, to safer and more environmentally friendly jobs.

Budi also developed land reclamation through reforestation in the abandoned post-tin mining area in Belitung Island together with former illegal loggers and illegal miners. The site now is an independent Forest Park that also serves as a “seed bank” conserving the endangered native trees. Additionally, he also developed the Terong Creative Tourism Village which has received an award as the leading tourism village from the Ministry of Tourism. The disused tin-mining ponds have been converted into fishponds. The tourist destination now is equipped with culinary and cultural support facilities as well as a homestay run by the community members. There are about 60 empowered families. In Nasik Strait Island, tourists can visit a mangrove conservation center and take a boat tour to see mangroves and mangrove restoration sites. In addition to these facilities, Budi and his team have empowered local people to establish more than 50 homestays in 10 villages throughout the Belitung archipelago. Similar models have also been developed in different places including Bukit Pao Georeserve, Purun Resort Seliu Island, Pulau Buku Limau Community Dive Center, and many more.

Following his community mobilization and environmental conservation, Budi’s third strategy is public education and policy advocacy. Budi works very closely with youth to instill the importance of youth engagement in restoring and conserving the environment. He developed a school environmental curriculum that is already integrated in many schools in Belitung Islands, which also includes schools who bring students to engage in environmental education voluntarily in the Batu Mentas Natural Tourism area. The environmental education themes include getting to know Belitung’s flora and fauna, becoming friends of the river, the sea, sea turtles, and coral reefs, getting to know local medicinal plants and herbs, photography and educational video making, waste recycling, and outbound activities. Partnering with the schools, Budi helped set up student groups for them to actively engage in environmental activities including the Environmental Student Clubs, Student Scouts, Mount Climbing Student Clubs, and many more.

As part of the campaign measures, Budi raises the importance of conserving the habitat for the lives of Belitung Tarcius. He works with young people through the ‘Tarcius Goes to School’ activity where students could conduct research, make videos for advocacy campaigns to conserve the species, or even participate in Belitung Tarcius night watching. To run the Tarcius night watching, Budi makes a deal with the farmers who run shifting cultivation (a technique of rotational farming in which land is cleared for cultivation and then left to regenerate after a few years). In every rotation, the farmers leave one hectare of forest for the Belitung Tarcius to live. In return, the farmers will get more income from running an ecotourism of Belitung Tarcius night watching.

Since 2006, Budi together with the fishing communities and CSO (Civil Society Organizations) partners has advocated to the government and lobbied for the establishment of a marine conservation zone on the west coast of Belitung. He built collaboration with local, provincial, and national governments to propose these draft regulations. Budi’s organization’s success in conducting coral reef restoration, turtle conservation, and ecotourism projects has encouraged the government's support and trust in the policy initiative. In addition, Budi has also worked with scientists and local communities in mapping marine habitats, collecting annual fish yield data, and promoting environmentally friendly fishing techniques using a revolving fund scheme to make innovative technology affordable for fisherfolks. Budi and his team held a large stakeholder meeting on the National Coral Reef Day in 2011, resulting in the official declaration of the Belitung Regency Marine Conservation Zone covering the non-fishing zones and sustainable fishing zones. This marine conservation zone regulation provides legal protection against the expansion of tin mining into the area and prohibits the destructive fishing practices previously common in the area. For his efforts Budi received the Coastal Award from the Ministry of Marine and Fishery in 2012.

Not only have people gained new sources of income, but the model has also changed former illegal miners and illegal loggers’ behaviors to becoming protectors of the already-damaged environment and supporting the recovery process. The model also protects the environment from further destruction. Budi continues expanding the models in the archipelago. Currently there are about 20 community-based ecotourism destinations, of which six are already financially independent. There are eight more that are still in development, including three on Bangka Island, two on Belitung Island, and three in Bengkulu, Luwu and Toba. From this model, Budi has reached out to about 1,500 individuals engaging in different roles, as guides, homestay providers, boat taxi drivers, agrotourism farmers, home industries, and travel agents. In partnership with the Telapak CSO Network, there are five community-based ecotourism models that have been developed outside Bangka Belitung Archipelago including Raja Ampat, South Sorong, Komodo Island, Lombok, and Aceh. For his efforts, Budi received the Tourism for Tomorrow Award 2019 in Spain from the world's highest tourism institution of World Trade and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Budi learned that Belitung Tarcius (Cephalopachus Bancanus Saltator) – an endemic primate species of Belitung Island was endangered but not yet listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) directory. Budi and his researcher colleagues conducted an extensive telemetry study to learn about the ecology of the Belitung Tarcius, including the home range sizes, population densities, insect abundance, and substrates for movements and habitat selection of the Belitung Tarcius. The study aimed to identify the critical resources for the tarsiers' survival and adaptation on Belitung Island which should contribute to the conservation action of the species, including raising awareness among local communities. After years of research, Budi was finally able to have the Belitung Tarcius listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) endangered species directory in 2010. This contributed to Belitung Island becoming recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Global Geopark. The local government and the local people have engaged in a joint promotion and made the dedicated habitat of Belitung Tarcius as one of sustainable tourist destinations.

The Person

Budi was born in 1976 on Belitung Island, near the forests, as the fourth of five siblings. He was raised by a teacher and headmaster father and mother who ran a small business making and selling traditional snacks. Budi was inspired by his father’s support towards the children’s education, even if they had to leave the island. Budi admired his father’s perseverance in having to cycle for 42 km going back and forth to the school every day. He recalled his mother cultivating sea turtles underneath the stilled house, harvesting eggs just enough to feed the children, and leaving the rest to hatch. His mother and his siblings also did seaweed cultivation for additional income. He recalled his father telling him that the environment has generously given people the resources to live, so they must live in balance with nature. During junior high school, Budi helped his father sell ice popsicles after school and the income went towards expenses for the Eid holiday. This experience with his father was Budi’s introduction to entrepreneurship.

He left the island to study German Language at the University of Padjadjaran, Bandung as he wanted to travel abroad. At the university he was very active in student social activities including initiating a student environmental club called Blue Hikers as a channel for students’ hobbies to become more professional undertakings. While running these activities, Budi experienced tragedy when his friend died from a snake bite. He then joined the Volunteer Corps of the Indonesian Red Cross and learned much about the medical aspects to support his environmental activities.

To support his finances for his studies, he started to earn money as a tourist guide. He did an internship in different tourist agencies until he became a certified guide. He built his capacity and tourism network as he envisioned one day he would like to create job opportunities for others. In 1996, an economic crisis hit Belitung which affected the students studying outside the island. Budi then gathered his friends to do something concrete for his families back home. He started to run a paper recycling business made of weeds. His environmental business went well and grew to cover other cities and, in 1997, he registered his group as the Belitung Environmental Group Care (KPLB).

His passion to work in environmental conservation and empower local people continued with several challenges. In 2016, his community resort in Kepayang Island was burned down due to a dirty tourism business competitor who wanted to control the whole island. With negative propaganda being spread, the community resort collapsed and Budi himself experienced injury from physical threats. He worked on the case with other national human rights organizations. He was invited by the UN during the World Ocean Day and provided testimony of his case. However, Budi made the choice not to take legal action and fight as he recalled his father telling the children to be strong in good or bad situation. With strong perseverance, Budi registered his former organization and changed it to the Tarcius Centre Indonesia in 2019, where he continues to restore what was lost and persevere in building up the ecotourism sector of Indonesia.

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