If you're a diver, chances are that that Raja Ampat or 'The Four Kings' is on your dive bucket-list. Raja Ampat is an archipelago of about 1500 islands in Indonesia's West Papua province. In this month's Up Close and Personal, we're going to meet Managing Partner of Papua Explorer's Dive Resort and the Coralia Liveaboard boat, Tari Savitri - some might say a queen of Raja Ampat.
Tari manages this very niche resort that's tucked in the heart of diving heaven. With crystal clear waters, it is paradise for both divers and non-divers alike. Papua Explorers Dive Resort and Coralia Liveaboard cater to a very special type of hotel guest - that very small percentage of the population who prefer to do their breathing under water.
Even for me as a non-diver, these two accommodations still really appeal to me. It's not just because we're talking about a resort or boat sitting there starkly in the middle of pristine nature - it's also because of the overall experience. It offers something that I wouldn't get anywhere else that includes diving, living on-board a local Indonesian Phinisi boat, hiking and general sightseeing in the Raja Ampat neighbourhood - it's truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Ever since their opening in 2013 and 2019 respectively, both properties have won awards including the Indonesian Sustainable Tourism Award 2018, Association of Dive Tour Operators Sustainability Award 2019, and DIVE Travel Award 2019 for both Best Resort & Best Liveaboard.
Sustainability in Comfort
When asked what made these properties different than other dive resorts or facilities Tari Savitri said that while sustainability is part of it, it's also about ensuring that guests' comfort is being catered for - "Papua Explorers Dive Resort was established with conservation in mind. As much as possible, we utilize natural resources that are locally sourced within the Raja Ampat region. Our 15 water bungalows are made to resemble Papuan style housing with their wood pillars, floors, thatched roof & leafy walls. We perfected them with modern comforts such as glass windows so that guests wake up to sea view, blue sky & sunshine. Our enjoined bathroom is also spacious & equipped with warm showers. We provide an all inclusive services package for our guests starting from picking them up from the airport, to transferring them to the island, providing them with all around full day meals, to laundry services. The diving package would include 3-4 dives per day at the best diving spots around the area. We also provide trips to watch endemic birds in their natural habitats, hiking trails to view Raja Ampat landscape over the hills, as well as interactions with local people in the neighboring villages."
Safety isn't something they compromise on either. Papua Explorers is a 5-Star accredited PADI dive resort with all internationally recognized branded equipment that is regularly maintained.
A Very Different Type of Cruise
I've always wanted to go on a boat that looks exotic and 'exclusive' rather than your cliche big cruise ship. Coralia might just be my answer. Unlike many other dive boats, this is a wooden Phinisi (alternatively spelt Pinisi) boat that is locally made in Tana Beru, South Sulawesi, also known as the Mecca of Indonesian traditional boat building.
"Coralia offers a perfect blend between classic, traditional Indonesian charm with modern design and safety features. She has eight spacious & luxurious cabins which are designed by an internationally renowned interior designer who incorporates into her designs modern style & comfort with traditional details. Coralia's crew are picked amongst the best, well trained & experienced crew in the region and they are led by very professional cruise directors with decades-long experience in cruising all over Indonesia."
"For divers, Coralia has everything that one could ask for. The dive lower deck is spacious, has warm showers, a changing room, diving equipment storage, rinsing basket for underwater cameras & a dedicated air-conditioned camera room on the main deck. Guests dive in small groups of four to one dive guide ratio & dive briefings are given at our spacious & comfortable air-conditioned main lounge and restaurant area. With such rigorous dive schedules, our guests will never be left starving as we spoil them with three sets of main meals & two sets of snacks, from our wholesome, freshly prepared local & international cuisine. Coralia also has her own barista & massage lady to boot!"
"Aboard Coralia, we put the safety of our guests & crew as our highest priority. We install comprehensive, modern safety features which are maintained regularly. Our staff are also well trained to use them in emergency situations. Coralia itself has two marine engines for safety reasons & is equipped with satellite phones"
Since it is such a unique and niche product, we asked what kind of challenges Tari and her partners have faced operating these properties:
"Some challenges come with the territory of being located on a remote island, namely logistical issues, communication connectivity, supply of competent human resources, access to fuel & its transportation, intercultural misunderstandings, and more. With each challenge, we face them with whatever resources that we have at the time and by careful planning. For instance, due to the remoteness of our location, we have a storage facility that houses enough logistical supplies for the running of the resort for at least a week. We do not have the luxury of running out to the nearest wet market when running out of meat. We also describe what to expect in detail to guests, when they book their holiday with us in our information sheet that can be downloaded from our website. Therefore, it is hoped that guests come with the right mindset (not expecting a disco lounge at the end of the street) & extra preparations (bring their own specific medicines, etc). The nearest hospital is also a one hour boat ride away. Therefore, it is imperative that guests are given resort and dive briefings so that they are aware of the do's & don'ts during their stay to minimize safety risks. At the end of the day, we're all working together to ensure that guests receive the best services & have the best Raja Ampat experience of their lives."
You may wonder how such a niche product that was created for a very specific group of people (There are 6 million active divers worldwide) can meet the bottom line requirements and turn a profit? Tari ensures us that when it comes to people going after their passion, there are always people there willing to pay for it.
"Most divers are either from the US who usually head for the Carribean, or from Europe who usually prefer the Red Sea. Raja Ampat for them is such a far & exotic place to be. But with their love of nature & understanding of what Raja Ampat has to offer with its rich marine biodiversity, they would bear the long travel & arduous journey. With this in mind, we can't say the diving market is big in terms of numbers. But it is a market for people who are willing to spend the extra buck to get a diving experience like no other. Once satisfied, they will come over & over & over again to repeat the experience."
"Many diving business owners will attest that it is not as much a profit driven business as it is a life choice to be in. Most ventured into the business as part of their love of nature, care for the environment and wanting to protect the most beautiful part of our little blue planet. This was the case for me & my business partners. We saw the potential but we didn't venture into this purely for the money."
"So, to say that the market is big? No. Do we have enough divers to fill the resort & turn a profit? Yes, just enough to run a decent business & keep us afloat. Whatever profit we have, we keep enough to sustain ourselves reasonably & most chunk goes back to maintaining & developing our business further as well as giving back to the local community & environment."
Papua Explorer's Dive Resort and the Coralia Liveaboard boat have proven that a unique product with a clear objective can win the market no matter where they are on the map - like many successful properties you just have to be true to who you are and what you offer.
What Tari and her team are doing there in their little piece of ‘The Wild’’ is truly commendable - facing all the challenges that regular hoteliers face, compounded by issues of supply chain, logistics, health and safety that come with being in one of the most remote places on the planet. This is definitely a new entry on my bucket-list.