Listening to tourists – and learning Duncan Graham
The fresh smell air in the dawn, shine of sun, surrounded by volcanoes, smile of peoples along the way, hundreds heritage building, and variety color of shopping. pleasure. Expererience (sic). dreams. here in Bandung, Indonesia.
Don’t judge a book by its cover or a city by its publicity. Presented with this example of tangled English from the Bandung Tourist Board, a concerned Djoni Sofyan Iskandar apologised and promised better communications in the future.
He wasn’t the author, but as the well-travelled boss of the Bandung Institute of Tourism (BIT) and a fluent English speaker he manfully shouldered some of the blame.
“We need to better understand tourists and their needs and to respond appropriately,” he said in Wellington. “Mastering English is essential for everyone working in the business of tourism.”
Djoni was in the New Zealand capital to attend a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) conference on TedQual.
This is the fancy acronym for Tourism Education Quality, indicating that travellers’ needs are being recognized along with the diversity of the industry. Tourism jostles dairy exports as the most important earner in the economy of NZ, a nation that’s a world leader in outdoor activities.
UNWO is trying to introduce what it calls ‘responsible tourism’ and codes of ethics, particularly in developing countries. The idea is to ensure local people get the benefits and that negative impacts on cultures and the environment are reduced.
Big building hotels and airports in places like Bali, and the inflow of thousands of foreigners with different expectations and values has disrupted traditional lifestyles, widening the gulf between rich and poor. Inevitably resentment follows.
Despite the Bandung language hiccup Djoni and his deputy Joko Suyono launched into an energetic defence of West Java’s capital and a robust promotion of the BIT, a State college with around 2,000 students.
He said 90 to 95 per cent found jobs in the industry, with 40 per cent working overseas. Cruise ships employed large numbers. According to BIT’s senior staff this puts the educator in the vanguard of hospitality trainers in the Republic.
Anyone querying this claim should be in the so-called Paris of Java in May 2012 when Bandung will host a major forum on Rethinking Tourism. This will also recognize BIT’s 50 years as a hotel and tourism academy. The forum will include strategies for sustainable development.
Also likely to be at the talkfest, if he doesn’t get snapped up by another agency in need of a dynamic promoter, will be Nyoman Madiun who directs the rival Bali Tourism Institute.
Like BIT this is classified as a STP (Sekolah Tinggi Pariwisata) or Tourism High School, though these institutions are more like Western polytechnics providing vocational education in management, catering, travel and related activities. The Bali institute was started in 1976 and has 1,300 students.
With his offsider Dewa Gde Byomantara and the two Bandung teachers, Nyoman also attended the UNWTO conference. Like any good entrepreneur he never paused to take a rest from promoting his island and drop reminders that Bandung, for all its grand attractions including Art Deco architecture, is not a destination on most foreigners’ Must See lists.
“There’s a need for the Indonesian government to boost spending in education and visitor facilities,” he said. “At the local level you have to get community involvement and support for tourism.
“We must listen to tourists, find out what they want and respond accordingly. Hygiene, accessibility and security are high on tourists’ demands – and we’ve still got someway to go here, particularly with cleanliness. There are so many streams developing, like cultural tourism, eco-tourism and adventure tours. ”
“Bali was lucky because the Dutch colonial government started promoting tourism early in the 20th century,” said Djoni. “It has continued off and on since then. Bandung is better known for textiles, but that will change in the next five years.”
“Everyone in Bali knows that tourism is our number one earner. It’s in our blood. Our culture is a seamless mix of religion and art that must be preserved,” replied Nyoman Madiun. “If tourists stopped coming tomorrow we would still be praying and dancing.
“We’re now looking towards Russia as a source for visitors, along with ASEAN countries and Western Europe. We want people to explore elsewhere and are promoting a Bali and Beyond campaign.”
Recalling that dour Malaysia attracts 27 million visitors a year while smile-free Singapore pulls in almost ten million, the obvious question is why the magnificent archipelago laden with historical, cultural and scenic riches and jolly people shuffles in with under seven million.
According to the feisty four tourism hotshots, all these figures are rubbery with visitors, business people and tourists being bundled together.
“Malaysian statistics include all those people who cross the Causeway every day from Singapore to Johor Bharu to work or study,” said BIT’s deputy director Joko Suyono. “But it’s not just numbers – the other factors are length of stay and what people do while in the country.
“The Indonesian figures are taken from tour operators’ statistics and don’t include individual visitors. Countries aren’t always measuring the same thing.”
There was also general agreement that the Visit Indonesia campaign was no real match for Malaysia’s Truly Asia advertising, its neighbour’s Surprising Singapore tag and the sub-continent’s Incredible India. All three countries saturate Western television with their joys and jingles.
“That’s because many in government don’t really understand tourism,” said Djoni Sofyan. “There’s not enough money in the budgets. Another problem is with the mentality of the people in the departments.
“There are government regulations that get in the way, such as queues for visas, and difficulties in implementing rules about foreign investments.
“To understand tourism you have to travel, to be a tourist. That’s essential. Too many haven’t been out of the country.”
(First published in the Jakarta Post 24 November 2010)