NOW ON SALE: COUNTRIES WITH CHARISMA © Duncan Graham 2007
Most nations now recognize the value of tourism. All Indonesians who've been exposed to the jolly come-and-see-us-soon ads run by our neighbors please show your boarding passes.
The government-backed campaigns seem to reap a rich harvest. Malaysia claims almost 17 million annual visitors, while tiny Singapore with little to promote other than hectares of shopping space is expecting 10 million.
Meanwhile we're bumping along with less than 5 million when we have so much more to offer in culture, lifestyle and landscapes. What's the problem? Duncan Graham reveals some of the secrets of a world leader in tourism:
New Zealand is a tiny country about one-seventh the size of Indonesia. It's also easy to get around. The infrastructure is efficient. The roads are fast and open, the towns small and compact.
So why do experienced travelers recommend a visit of at least one month? Cynics might say that it's all a cunning plot by crafty Kiwis; the longer you stay the more your wallet slims.
Kinder folk say it takes at least four weeks just to travel one island – and even then not see all that's on offer.
Last year visitors left NZ $6.6 billion (Rp 42 trillion) behind, making tourism one of the nation's major foreign exchange earners, sometimes eclipsing wool, meat, fruit and dairy foods – the traditional deliverers of dollars.
Every year the Indonesian government publishes its visitor targets. Last year 5 million were expected. About 4.8 million allegedly turned up – but who trusts such figures?
This year vice president Jusuf Kalla says 6 million should come to the archipelago – and has ordered 12 tourist promotion offices overseas to be reopened. The budget to lure world wanderers is reported to be Rp 158 billion (US $ 17.6 million). Stand by for lots of meaningless slogans.
NZ authorities aware that events outside their control (like fuel costs, air fares and terrorism) can knock predictions askew, are more cautious with forecasts. They shouldn't be – the figures go up by 1.5 per cent every year.
Last year more than 2.4 million foreigners slipped down to the South Pacific islands – that's 60 per cent of the resident population. If these statistics could be replicated in Indonesia we'd have about 150 million visitors a year. Imagine what that would do to the traffic congestion.
To be fair the Indonesian shortfalls can't all be blamed on inept promotion and clumsy marketing, though these are major factors. Travel warnings by Western governments don't help. Indonesia gets a lousy press overseas that’s enough to deter all but the hardy.
Who'd want to spend their holidays risking bird flu in the villages and dengue fever in the cities, tsunamis on the coast and earthquakes in the hinterland? Who'd willingly choose to travel on suspect planes and ferries? These events are isolated and relatively rare; but try telling that to the nervous Nellies who can select from scores of countries that seldom make the headlines.
With such handicaps Indonesia can do only one thing: Try harder.
That's what they've done in NZ, a land also prone to natural disasters. The shaky isles are well named with shudders, rumbles and occasional eruptions from the country's active volcanoes and fidgety tectonic plates.
There are about 14,000 earthquakes every year, though less than 150 are serious. In February Auckland was rocked by a 4.5 Richter scale quake, the biggest since 1970.
While keyboarding this story scientists were checking levels in the crater lake of Mount Ruapehu in the center of NZ's North Island. The rim was expected to rupture sending a vast torrent of lahar (a slurry of ash, water and rock) thundering down the slopes.
If and when that happens loss of life and destruction of towns is not expected. The lahar will be channeled away to the sea and the event will become another tourist attraction, not a national emergency.
NZ has been blessed with luscious landscapes, natural features and different cultures; so has Indonesia, a country much closer to the world's big population centers. NZ is far away at the bottom of the world. Distances deter and great distances deter greatly.
So how have the Kiwis made the hospitality industry a top earner, while Indonesia reaps more by exporting poor workers, not importing affluent visitors?
The difference is in the management. For NZ tourism is a serious business done professionally to world standards. It's been that way for more than 100 years, and the population seems to understand its importance. They want to share their good fortune in living in Godzone (God's Own Country) – and by doing so snare your fortunes.
In Indonesia tourism promotion outside Bali is a joke, an opportunity for battalions of bureaucrats who've never been abroad to fudge figures and sigh about the lack of resources. Meanwhile private enterprise waits for the government to improve the infrastructure.
The other factor is public support. It's rare to meet a Kiwi in a hotel or shop who isn't prepared to help, however absurd the query. Ten per cent of the workforce gets its income from incomers – and most locals want visitors to have a good time.
High quality free brochures and maps are everywhere. A system of national training and accreditation means most visitor centers (known as I-Sites) turn on a sparkling service.
Indonesians are equally friendly – but lack accurate information, as anyone would testify who has asked for directions from a roadside eatery and been given ten different instructions.
However the NZ mateship stops short of language skills. The bigger centers like Wellington and Auckland have Japanese speakers, and some attractions supply multi-lingual commentaries (not including Indonesian, a language no longer taught at universities). But otherwise NZ is monolingual.
The national tongue is supposed to be English, but on the palates of Kiwis it's more a scrambled form of Scottish. Go to church and you'll be invited to sing hums and uther gud thungs.
The other complaint is the standard Asian disgust with closing times; shopaholics have to go cold turkey after 5 pm. In summer it's still daylight at 8.30 pm and later still in the South Island.
So do what the locals do – recreate. Kiwis reckon that life is better spent in the great outdoors than in shopping malls. It's a lot healthier and the air-conditioning is natural.
FROM DUST TO DOLLARS
Earthquakes in populated areas are tragic events, as the people of Yogya know well. So do the folk of Napier on the east coast of NZ's North Island.
Mid morning of 3 February 1931 an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter
scale hit the town and surrounds, killing more than 250 and flattening the city.
Fire followed. About 40 square kilometers of seabed was heaved out of the ocean. "The land was like a bucking horse," said one survivor.
In most places such an awful occasion would be remembered by solemn services but Napier has turned the crash into cash. When the earth opened, so did the opportunities.
Napier was rapidly rebuilt in the Art Deco mode popular before the Great Depression hacked hope to shreds and triggered new global conflict. The geometric, pared-back style was supposed to reflect a clean, uncluttered era of peace and prosperity following the war to end all wars. It infected everything from architecture through fashion and into typography and vocabulary.
There used to be many Art Deco buildings in Indonesia, mainly in Bandung, Malang and Surabaya. Sadly most have been demolished by developers insensitive to heritage.
Not in Napier. The Philistines were kept away and Napier is now billed as having the most complete and significant collection of Art Deco buildings in the world.
Architects and designers have long known this and many have made the pilgrimage; now the public is fully conscious. For four days every February Napier turns on a splendid celebration of all things Art Deco. The hiss you hear isn't the sea-spray on the offshore breeze. It's the sweet sound of credit cards being skimmed.
The Roaring Twenties are recreated as the enthusiastic townsfolk and their guests, splendid in boaters and cloche hats, braces and black-seamed stockings step out the Charleston. These P G Wodehouse characters look just spiffing, really super! Pip, pip, Darling!
All are there to get into 'a not-too-serious' recall of the day the earth moved, and to recognize the survivors' determination to turn tragedy into triumph.
This year thousands poured into Napier from around the globe to watch or take part in more than 100 events. Most had a price tag attached. But if you've come from the other side of the world to indulge your fantasies by taking a spin in a 70-year old open-top 12-cylinder tourer wearing a fox fur, then cash is no consideration.
The Art Deco weekend is another example of Kiwi cleverness: Cultural and history tourism. Many cities around the world have architecture that draws crowds but none do it in quite the style of Napier.
LEARN YOUR WAY AROUND
Although NZ's main selling point is the country's natural beauty the pioneers of tourism reckoned that catering to all interests was the best way to retain visitors.
If you're not moved by the glacial speed of a glacier and don't get the hots for freezing fiords, try extreme sports, like kayaking, paragliding and canyoning. These guarantee an adrenalin fix, with bungy jumping a NZ specialty.
This involves throwing yourself off a bridge or platform high above a white-foamed river and hoping the elastic rope tied around your ankles hasn't passed its use-by date. Not recommended for those who suffer vertigo, wear skirts or insist on keeping passport, cash and car keys in their pockets.
Then there are mind exercises. If you love literature wander the writers' walks around Wellington, following quotable quotes etched in stone.
My favorite is by poet Lauris Edmond which sums up the NZ attitude: 'It's true you can't live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.'
Despite its tiny population NZ has produced a long column of authors, from Katherine Mansfield to Janet Frame – and a reel of great filmmakers. Local lad Peter Jackson is the current director of the decade.
Finding the locations where he shot the Lord of The Rings trilogy draws celebrity hunters who think the mountains and rivers the real movie stars. Cine-tourism.
Fascinated by farming? Watch sheep shuffle and dogs do canine capers in Rotorua and elsewhere while you understand more about wool and get gently fleeced at the same time. Agro-tourism.
More interested in the hard sciences? Long before the world started worrying about depleted stocks of fossil fuels, Kiwis were confronting the reality of living in a land with little oil and coal, and far from the suppliers.
So they exploited their topography and geology, making power from water (hydroelectricity) hot rocks (geothermal energy) and now wind.
At Woodville, about two hours drive north of Wellington is the latest venture, just two years old. The Te Apiti wind farm has 55 giant windmills stride across the hilltops looking like monsters from the War of the Worlds.
They generate enough power to satisfy 45,000 homes. Up close they sing a weird, celestial chorus as the 35-meter long blades slice through the air.
Like many other industries, wind-power generation has been added to the list of NZ tourist must-sees. So if you're feeling guilty about too much hedonism and reckon the kids need extra tuition in physics and maths, add electricity stations to your itinerary, go ape about amps and marvel at the foresight.
Other countries – including Indonesia - put KEEP OUT signs on their industrial enterprises. NZ opens the doors and tunnels, builds a kiosk up front selling entry tickets and touristy knick-knacks – and turns the turbines into money machines. Te Apiti is still free – a rarity in NZ. Visit soon before the cash registers are installed.
If Kiwis were handling East Java's Lapindo mud volcano be sure that by now it would be manufacturing megawatts and tourist dollars.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
Garuda has dumped NZ from its schedules, but many other airlines serve the islands. Most routes go through Australia's east coast cities, so make sure your flight doesn't demand a prolonged stopover.
NZ immigration quarantine and customs are efficient but friendly. Their counterparts in Oz are grossly over-zealous, and demand another visa for long transit stops – so scrutinize flight details carefully.
To get best benefit from your bucks check ticket prices – there's currently a US $ 500 (Rp 4.5 million) gap between Royal Brunei at the bottom and Qantas at the top. At that difference it's worth taking the grog-free Muslim airline and an overnight stop in the Sultanate. Malaysian Air is somewhere between the two extremes.
Indonesian passport holders need a tourist visa. It costs Rp 700,000 and is valid for three months. More information and forms to download on www.immigration.govt.nz
Public transport isn't widely used and is expensive. Hire rates for a reliable car start around NZ $30 (Rp 200,000) a day, more expensive during peak periods. It's worth buying extra insurance or you'll have to pay the first NZ $2,500 (Rp 16 million) for any accidental damage.
Motorhomes cost more but make you completely independent. However the big ones are awkward to handle in the cities where parking fees can cripple your budget.
NZ's infrastructure is designed for do-it-yourself independent travelers, with self-contained motels, tourist flats and camping grounds almost everywhere. Allocate NZ $200 (Rp 1.3 million) a day for a budget-conscious couple's transport, accommodation and food needs.
Who should go? Everyone – but especially Indonesian tourist officials and promoters who want to experience world's best practice and garner some great ideas.
(First published in The Weekender Magazine (JP) 25 May 07)