‘Indonesia tourism is much more than Just Bali’

Tanah Lot, Bali.Tanah Lot, Bali. Photo courtesy wikimedia user James Mason-Hudson

By: Ardi Wirdana

Indonesia will stop over-relying on “oversold” Bali and will look to create 10 new world class tourist destinations as part of a serious effort to attract more tourists into the country.

While Indonesia has always seen an annual increase in the number of foreign tourists in the last ten years, the figure of 10 million tourists in 2014 is still embarrassingly far behind neighbours Thailand and Malaysia, as both each attract over 20 million tourists annually.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration has been aggressive in promoting the “Wonderful Indonesia” slogan to promote the country’s tourism and has set a target of reaching 20 million foreign tourists by 2019 – a target that should prove to be realistic given the huge tourism potential within the archipelago.

“We do believe that Indonesia has more options in terms of location for tourism. But we lack infrastructure, the vision, and the patience to implement it,” Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Rizal Ramli told foreign journalists in Jakarta recently.

Part of the vision, he explained, was to establish 10 new world class tourism spots. The initiative involves not only upgrading existing tourism destination, such as making Yogyakarta’s Borobudur “more holy” and making the Thousand Islands Jakarta’s very own marinas, but also by touching up interesting landmarks to give it some special tourism appeal.

Natural Scenery of Lake Toba, North Sumatera.

Natural Scenery of Lake Toba, North Sumatera. Photo courtesy wikimedia user Wagino

One of those landmarks is Lake Toba in North Sumatera, a natural volcanic lake which the government wants to turn into “the Monaco of Asia”.

“If we clean up Lake Toba, improve surrounding, invest in road, invest in water, drainage system, internet, we can turn Toba into a good tourist location,” Rizal said.

Lake Toba also has a historical story that it must “sell” in order to project and make it more appealing to foreigners. The story dates back around 77,000 years ago when a massive supervolcanic eruption, the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years, occurred at the site of Lake Toba.

“Not many people know this, even within Indonesia. There was an explosion bigger than Krakatau, bigger than Pompeii. The world was darkened because of the ashes. One third of human beings and animal died. There was a major climate change. There was a Darwinian transformation because many animals couldn’t survive in warmer temperatures. We should tell these stories to everybody and they will come for it,” he said.

Ramping up Efforts

Under the new Jokowi administration, which is now into its second year in office, the tourism ministry has made some breakthrough to boost the tourism industry.

One of the biggest policy changes has been a free visa policy implemented early in the year for tourists from 47 countries – a policy which Minister Rizal said has had a “significant impact” on the number of tourist arrivals.

More recent initiatives include launching an interactive tour guide aimed at promoting the country as the world’s largest Muslim destination, appointing marketing guru Philip Kotler as Wonderful Indonesia Ambassador to endorse the archipelago’s tourism brand to the world, and getting an Indonesian culture and tourism television program, entitled Wondernesia, to air on TLC and Discovery channels across the Asia Pacific region.

Indonesia also recently acted as host for a workshop event for ASEAN tourism industry professionals which went by the theme “Professional Development Training on Guideline for ASEAN Cultural and Heritage Tourism Travel Pattern.”

The efforts are part of the government’s push to reach the target of 20 million foreign visitors, plus 275 million domestic tourists, by 2019, which the government expects should contribute 8 per cent to national gross domestic product, accounting for Rp 240 trillion (US$ 17.2 billion) and 13 million people working in the sector by 2019.

Targeted Marketing

The Tourism Ministry will have Rp 5.4 trillion (US$ 389 million) to spend on encouraging both foreign and domestic tourists to travel across the archipelago next year, more than double the Rp 2.4 trillion it received in 2015.

The ministry will be determined to use the fund wisely and has indicated that it would employ a more efficient and effective marketing strategy by trying to get more out of existing tourist markets rather than venturing to new unknown ones.

Indonesia Minister of Toursim Arief Yahya

Indonesia Minister of Toursim Arief Yahya. Photo courtesy wikimedia user Aryphrase

At the moment, the most frequent and loyal foreign visitors to Indonesia are from Singapore. According to 2015 data from the directorate general of immigration and Indonesia’s Statistics, more than 1.2 million Singaporeans entering Indonesia through 19 major airports and ports in the January-October period, up 0.57 per cent from the same period a year earlier.

Given the incredible levels of Singapore trade and investment partnership with Indonesia, it is assumed that many of the visitors from Singapore come to Indonesia for business purposes. However, many of them often spend the time and money to unwind, spending an average of US$158.25 a day in Indonesia and staying for an average of 4.16 days, according to separate a report released in August.

The trade and investment link actually applies to each of the top 5 tourists countries. Behind Singapore in the list is Indonesia’s second biggest trade partner – China, with 966,988 tourists recorded entering Indonesia in the January-October period of 2015. This figure is an impressive 18.85 per cent increase from the previous year, following an agreement by the two countries earlier in the year to boost tourists traveling to each other’s countries.

The third most frequent tourists by country of origin is Malaysia, the second biggest investors in Indonesia. Despite managing to attract as much as 957,414 Malaysian tourists, the figure is lower than that of the previous year. Malaysia therefore would be a market Indonesia would be eager to grow.

Australia and Japan make up the rest of the top five source countries for tourists to Indonesia. Promising markets, the report suggests, include Egypt, Britain, India, Germany and the United States as these five countries have more travellers visit Indonesia in the first 10 months of 2015 compared to the previous year.