Despite a plethora of destination gems, the archipelago’s tourist efforts still lag far behind its regional neighbors’
Jakarta. With more than 13,000 islands stretching across the nation, from Sabang to Merauke, Indonesia is an archipelago that boasts endless natural beauty and places to explore.
Bali and its equally popular neighboring island Lombok have experienced a significant boost in tourism in the past several years, and they are just a few of the myriad of Indonesian holiday sites that lure repeat visitors to the country.
While the tourism industry continues to make a name for itself, and with many optimistic about the nation’s potential, concerns remain over destinations that have not been sufficiently optimized to attract travelers.
Data from the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy showed Indonesia took in a total 8.7 million foreign tourists in 2013, while this year it aims to attract 9.2 million international tourists, in addition to 255 million domestic tourists.
Few tourist destinations, few tourists
Popular Indonesian travel blogger and writer Trinity, however, doubted that the number of international tourist arrivals in Indonesia had even reached 8.2 million.
“The number could be lower than what was reported. I fully doubt the statistics,” she insisted.
Trinity explained her disbelief by comparing Indonesia to its neighbors, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
“I’m not saying [Indonesian tourism] is bad, but those countries have been well-managed for decades; they take tourism very seriously. They provide comfort and safety to foreign tourists. Singapore has great infrastructure with almost zero flight delays; there are many connecting flights there. They prepare everything thoroughly to make guest feel entertained,” she said.
“Malaysia was visited by more than 10 million foreign tourists last year and they target to achieve around 13 million this year. That’s quite a distance compared to Indonesia’s [figures]. But I think that’s fair because their [tourism] advertisements are everywhere. However, we have more resources, we have more tourist destinations, but what’s wrong?” she said.
“Thailand has been known as a tourist destination for a longer period of time compared to other Asian countries, especially for Europeans. They have crafted sophisticated management techniques for the tourism sectors,” she added. “Thailand is not just about temples, statues and ecotourism; they have also made further advancements in luxury tourism,” she said.
Trinity also lamented on the government’s visa-on-arrival (VOA) policy, which requires tourists from certain countries to pay an amount of money in order to extend their stay in Indonesia. The regulation, she said, only restricts tourists from exploring the country’s vastness.
“We should look at South America, which gives international tourists a three-month visa to explore the country, which I think is more profitable,” she said.
“As far as I am concerned, the tourism sector in Indonesia is not being taken seriously. We haven’t yet placed tourism as the country’s main source of income, but what if [the country’s] other resources have been depleted? If the tourism sector is not managed properly, how else could we earn our income?” she asked.
Marketing and promotion
Hermawan Kartajaya, a marketing expert and a member of Indonesia’s Tourism Promotion Agency (BPPI) said the Indonesian government has done its best to develop tourist sectors. However, coordination between the central government and provincial and district heads remain flawed.
“Creating a smooth cooperation with local governments is not an easy task. The ministry of tourism and creative economy is doing its very best to ensure coordination,” he said.
Hermawan added that brand management, including advertising, falls under the responsibility of the tourism ministry, while customer and product management are the tasks of the local governments.
He explained the workings of two different types of tourism with different effects on the economic cycle.
“When it comes to tourism, we have to remember that there are two groups: the international tourist who feeds foreign exchange and the domestic tourism who encourages economic activities. Domestic tourism is quite healthy in Indonesia. But, our capacity in managing international tourist arrival is still low,” he said.
Hermawan emphasized on the proper management of Indonesia’s tourism sector as a way to boost travel to the archipelago’s array of destinations.
“The most important aspect of management lies in the acceptance of foreign investors. However, are we ready for that?” he questioned.
“The thing is, this country does not consider tourism as its main priority. Furthermore, the quality of human resources and infrastructure still need to be widely developed.
“Local government also need to change their priority and pay more attention to local tourist destinations,” he said.
Spark of optimism
Deputy Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy Sapta Nirwandar prefers to being optimistic about achieving its 9.2 million target of international visitors.
“However, we know this would require a precise process and we have worked on the necessary preparations,” Sapta said.
The deputy explained the ministry will focus on two sectors.
“We will further expand our marketing efforts by increasing the promotion of various Indonesian destinations both offline and online,” he said.
Sapta added that Indonesia will stage several cultural-exchange programs with Asian countries, including China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, whose citizens are our main targets.
“We will cooperate with travel agents as they are experts in the field,” Sapta said. “We will use our relationship with various countries to form a tourism connection. We have joined the Visit Tourism Office [VIT] and we have hired agents in the target countries to monitor developments.”
Though he feels optimistic about Indonesia’s tourism developments this year, Sapta realizes the task will be a gradual and continuous process.
“It would be impossible to reach the target this year, but we predict to accomplish our goal by early 2015,” he said.
Sapta conceded Indonesia still stands behind other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia in, but emphasized the nation was well on its way to offering an unforgettable, hassle-free holiday experience. The Jakarta Globe