Faisal Maliki Baskoro
A poor global perception of Indonesia coupled with a lack of infrastructure and connectivity are hampering foreign tourism growth, the nation’s tourism and creative economy minister said on Thursday.
“If you Google image [search] Indonesia, you will see the national flag, the Garuda [national symbol], and only one picture related to tourism: the Borobudur Temple,” Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said in a visit to the BeritaSatu Media Holdings office in Jakarta.
“But if you Google image Cambodia, you will see a lot of Angkor Wat images,” she added, referring to that country’s renowned Hindu temple complex.
Mari said international perceptions of Indonesia were tainted by terrorism and tsunamis. Meanwhile, Bali remains the main tourism point of reference for most.
“We need to change these perspectives by pushing more positive news about Indonesia and promoting tourism,” she said.
The ministry is targeting the number of foreign tourists to reach 10 million in 2014, but a lack of infrastructure and connectivity is hampering tourism growth.
Mari said the ministry is aiming for average annual growth in foreign tourism of 1 million people per year. Last year, there were 7.6 million foreign tourists and this year the ministry is targeting about 8 million.
“Hopefully in 2014, the number of foreign tourists can reach 10 million. This is still half of Malaysia’s foreign tourists though,” she said.
“What’s more important than numbers is the quality of the tourists. We want tourists to stay longer, spend more and return to Indonesia,” the former trade minister added.
The tourism sector generated a foreign exchange income of $8.6 billion in 2011, a 13 percent increase from the previous year.
Mari said foreign exchange income from the tourism sector was expected to reach $9.5 billion this year and $11 billion by 2014.
She added that domestic tourism is still fueling growth in the sector, with 125 million domestic tourists generating revenues of Rp 15 trillion ($1.6 billion) for the sector last year.
“We will continue to promote tourism destinations. There are approximately 200 points of tourism in 80 destinations in Indonesia. Indonesia is more than just Bali,” she said.
Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Bunaken Island in North Sulawesi and Komodo Island in East Nusa Tenggara are among the tourism gems, Mari said.
The ministry has a budget of Rp 400 billion for promotional purposes, relatively small compared to the foreign exchange income it has generated.
“Our branding, ‘Wonderful Indonesia,’ is not quite working. But I think the problem is not the message. It is the lack of infrastructure and connectivity,” she said.
She said that the number of direct flights to tourism destinations was still lacking and airports and seaports were overcapacity.
“To solve this, we need cooperation with the Public Works Ministry, State Enterprises Ministry and the Transportation Ministry. I can see that improvements have been done,” she said.
The ministry has divided the tourism destinations into seven categories: Sports tourism (diving, golf); eco tourism; cruise ship tourism; spa and medical tourism; culture and heritage tourism; culinary and shopping tourism; and MICE (meeting, incentives, conferences and events) tourism.