What to know about UNESCO heritage sites in Indonesia

Heritage site: The best time to visit Borobudur temple is at dawn. That is when this Central Java’s magnificent world heritage monument is enveloped in cool mist and peace.

The tourism industry in Indonesia is rapidly growing with the number of international visitors almost doubling since a decade ago.

Everywhere in the country people are trying to get a piece of this booming business and doing their best to get exposure for the destinations in their regions.

One of the gimmicks you often hear at these tourist sites is how the place is in the process of attaining the status of World Heritage Site from UNESCO, whether it is on a trip to Raja Ampat Islands, Bunaken National Park, Wakatobi National Park or even relatively lesser known spots like Bawomataluo in Nias Island.

Such claims by said destinations are not just tourist spoofs however, as those names have indeed made it onto UNESCO's Tentative List along with 14 other sites in Indonesia, currently going through the nomination process.

The World Heritage Sites list includes UNESCO-approved places, which bear special cultural or physical significance in our world.

It consists of 1,007 sites as of 2015, including popular landmarks like the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), natural phenomenon like the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and vast amounts of land like the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador).

The list is curated by UNESCO, and interested countries need to follow a nomination process to have their site listed.

The nomination process

UNESCO put together operational guidelines for countries that wish to nominate heritage sites for the list.

Explained simply, the nomination process involves three major steps: First, the state makes an inventory of potential heritage sites. Second, among the properties on the national inventory, the state chooses which ones will be included on a Tentative List.

The last step involves nominating one property from the Tentative List to be considered for World Heritage listing.

In real life, the process is much more strict and complicated however, as the nomination process of a site could take years before it could finally be listed as a World Heritage Site - should it pass all the hurdles.

Toeti Heraty Rooseno, adviser of the team that campaigns for Kota Tua Jakarta to be on the list, told The Jakarta Post Travel how it took her father almost a decade to get Borobudur Temple on the list.

One point from the operation guidelines states that only 45 sites can be evaluated each year. Culture consultant of UNESCO Indonesia Kaori Kawakami said those spots are always full every year.

Those 45 spots on the Tentative List, filled by sites from countries all over the world, undergo a two-level evaluation. Advisory bodies will examine all the nominations first before handing their recommendations to the World Heritage Committee, which will decide the outcome of the nomination - whether it is to be accepted, referred back for more information, deferred back for substantial revision or rejected.

Indonesia's listed sites

Indonesia, as it stands now, has eight sites on the World Heritage List: four are cultural sites and the rest are natural sites.

The four cultural sites are Borobudur Temple (Central Java), Subak plantation system (Bali), Prambanan Temple (Central Java) and Sangiran archaeological site (Central Java). The natural sites consist of Komodo National Park (East Nusa Tenggara), Lorentz National Park (Papua), Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra and Ujung Kulon National Park (Banten).

The year 1991 was the most successful time for Indonesia, as it managed to get four of its sites on the list - it was also the first time the country ever made it onto the list. The latest Indonesia site to make it onto the list would be the Subak plantation system, which was approved in 2012.

Getting on the list does not only give these sites added sparkle for their tourism pamphlets, aside from getting more exposure and popularity, a site on the World Heritage List can apply for a grant from UNESCO's preservation fund.

Up until 2012, the sites in Indonesia have received 27 grants, ranging from US$5,000 (S$6,700) to US$70,000, for a total amount of US$650,740.