Indonesian tourism needs more than slogans
The Indonesian government has set about boosting tourism with the tagline Ten New Balis.
About 12 million visitors entered the country last year; the target is 20 million by 2019. The hope is that these sightseers will provide 20 per cent of the nation’s GDP - last year USD 932 billion according to the World Bank.
But they won’t come without a rethink of the industry. That means integrating attractions with public facilities and transport to benefit customers and suppliers.
Task One - define ‘foreign tourist’. Government officials who seldom travel overseas imagine hedonistic Westerners flopped around swim-up bars, but there are other segments – like backpackers searching for the ultimate bombora. They use dorms, eat street food, open wallets reluctantly but tick ‘unlike’ freely on social media.
That can be a problem. Charging overseas hikers park entry fees ten times above those for locals in chauffeured Mercedes doesn’t look good on smartphones overseas. Nor are shared photos of trash-choked creeks.
Then come families exposing pre-teens to the archipelago’s mysteries before the kids turn surly and favor Facebook above face time. These explorers go for homestays, their love is nature and culture.
Likewise the semi-retired heritage-seekers unashamed to show knobbly knees as they wander far to avoid theme parks. They’re modest spenders but gracious givers and friendship makers.
Finally the superannuants looking for luxury and avoiding challenges. They buy packaged tours in their homeland and tend to be fussy. Fortunately they find Indonesian hospitality overwhelmingly positive. Social media comments about cheery and considerate staff abound.
So which guests does Indonesia want? One approach won’t fit all.
This nation’s allures are ‘wonderful’ as the campaign cliche claims. There are eight sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, but some - like the Lortentz National Park in West Papua are difficult to access; Others are poorly presented, like the Sangiran Early Humans site in Central Java.
Australia is helping with a US $2.75 million research grant. With consultants at AUD $100 (Rp 1 million) an hour plus, plus, don’t expect fat reports.
Pilgrims to Borobudur, the magnificent 9th century Buddhist temple complex in Central Java might assume that other world-famous sites are equally well run. If only.
Mount Bromo in East Java is one of the President’s Top Ten. At weekends this is chaos central as hundreds arrive to witness dawn as the vast caldera and its four cones loom out of the gloom, a panorama of awe, not a Lord of the Rings make believe.
Also rising as the sun strikes is the stench of urine. Toilets are being built but not with the same urgency that climbers have for relief. Then there’s the graffiti and trash.
Many visitors arrive in prototype Toyota FJs notorious for helping direct drivers to chiropractors. Rental companies call these rattletraps ‘jeeps’ and argue they are necessary to handle hazards.
True – but there are later, safer models built for passenger comfort, though upgrade costs might cripple small operators.
The Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park is a volcanic zone prone to reshaping by the next eruption, but the major problems are man-made. The narrow twisting tracks can’t take big buses so villagers miss out on grey nomads from afar. On a weekend trip last month oldies were rare and foreigners even rarer.
The dominants were leather-clad lads come to test their big bikes’ endurance rather than enjoy the majesty; controlling hoons is another must-fix issue.
There are 18 sites Indonesia wants added to the UNESCO list which could be vastly improved with small expenditure. Trowulan, the former capital of the 13th Century Majapahit Kingdom has the marvels - but not the packaging.
Not all are waiting for the government. Smart villagers are discovering that visitors don’t like plastic. Some around Borobudur have opened ‘art guesthouses’ with hot showers, toasters and the chance to stroll or bike and see local life without feeling like voyeurs.
In the East Java village of Tumpang entrepreneur Malang entrepreneur Dwi Cahyono is developing his Panji Museum and performance centre to promote Indonesian culture.
Also using private money is his friend Daniel Haryono whose highly-rated Ullen Sentalu culture centre is 25 kilometres outside central Yogyakarta. Both sites are difficult to access without private transport. The hire car business is growing but tourists can encounter drivers ignorant of overseas clients’ needs.
The President’s wish list includes Lake Toba in North Sumatra, and Mandalika in Lombok east of Bali, where projects worth US $3 billion are being touted.
The island’s 3.5 million people are mainly Muslims disinclined to party hard so may not welcome a spillover of Kuta’s culture. Some groups have been agitating for even tougher liquor restrictions.
A dry vacation may draw Middle East folk but not from the current top four tourist suppliers - China, Malaysia, Singapore and Australasia (around 1.5 million each). The migration of greenbacks into Indonesia (an estimated $1,200 per person per visit) will benefit the economy but could widen the social gap unless distributed fairly.
Unhappy globetrotters will just take their dollars elsewhere. Like ‘amazing Thailand’ (32 million visitors last year) which also has temples, jungles, surf – and booze.
First published in Asian Currents 14 December 2017. See: