Mari Elka Pangestu:
Thailand is roughly the size of France. It is recovering from the worst flooding in 50 years, which killed more than 600 people and affected some 12 million lives as of July last year. Somehow, it still managed to pull in a record number of tourists 18.5 million tourist arrivals in 2011. Thailand's Tourism Minister Chumpol Silpaarcha said on December 26 that the tourism sector alone stands to generate more than Baht 700 billion (US$22.2 billion).
By comparison, Indonesia is nearly four times the size of Thailand. Southeast Asia's largest economy is dotted with pristine beaches, spectacular mountainous regions and blessed with some of the world's exotic and endangered flora and fauna. However, pulling in a mere 8 million tourist arrivals by the end of this year was an "optimistic" target, according to Indonesia's Tourism Minister Mari Elka Pangestu. Her Ministry also projected foreign exchange earnings to reach US$8.98 billion in 2011. The pessimistic target for 2012 has been set at 7.8 million tourist arrivals, bringing in a moderate revenue target of Rp 7.9 million. Last year, a record 7.6 million tourists were expected to have visited Indonesia up 0.6 million from 2010's figures.
So, where lies the problem? One primary obstacle affecting not only tourism but other growth sectors in Indonesia is the serious lack of infrastructure. In the middle of last year, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced the government's economic master plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia's Economic Development, or MP3EI, geared toward turning the country's economy into one of the world's top 10 by 2025. The master plan forecasts government spending at Rp 4,000 trillion for the construction of roads, seaports, airports, power plants and railways. One new development was the recent enactment of the new land acquisition law in December, a longawaited legislation which is expected to facilitate land acquisition, in particular for construction projects.
Minister Pangestu believes, however, that there is much more to tourism than fixing the nation's infrastructure, although she admits that it is a critical component. As Indonesia prepares to host the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) this January, Pangestu attributes growth in the tourism sector to three other factors: the implementation of aggressive promotion campaigns, a strong political will to prioritize tourism and a holistic approach to providing services to tourists starting from point of entry into the country to point of departure. As for promotion campaigns, she suggests that there is more than one way to skin a cat. At least 51 percent of domestic and foreign tourists in Indonesia are believed to have two primary objectives to shop and to consume the local cuisine, according to the Tourism Ministry's data.
"It could be music or films. Or it could be our culinary delights. Rendang (Sumatra spicy beef) was voted the most favorite food, followed by nasi goring (fried rice). People come not just to enjoy nature. They come to sample our cuisine and of course, to shop," said Pangestu, during a recent interview with Tempo English Edition's Hermien Kleden, Gita Lal and Seulki Lee. Excerpts of the interview:
How optimistic are you that Indonesia will achieve its target of 8 million tourist arrivals this year?
Eight million tourist arrivals is within our reach. We do, however , still need to consider the world economic crisis. During the 2009 crisis though, we (tourism sector) still managed to grow by 0.36 percent. Today we aim for more arrivals from emerging countries in Asia, including China, also the Arab nations, Russia and Australia. Our European tourist arrivals have not gone down substantially. People are still taking holidays. We hope to go on an aggressive promotion campaign especially aimed at emerging markets. We will work on marketing strategies to pull in quality tourists, and not just go for quantity.
What do you mean by 'quality' tourists?
Quality tourists promise longer stay, spend more and seek our culture, environment and nature. By 2014, we aim for 9.5 million tourist arrivals.
That is a big jump from previous tourist arrivals, given our infrastructure problems.
I have to be optimistic that the expansion of the Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali will be completed by 2013. From the planning point of view, this was included in the MP3EI, and its construction work has begun. By August 2013, it should be done. We will host APEC (AsiaPacific Economic Cooperation) in September or October 2013, welcoming 21 world leaders. So, it's not only the airport that requires completion, but also the flyover from Benoa Ngurah Rai Nusa Dua. There are also plans to build an airport in North Bali.
What about other primary airports, including Soekarno Hatta?
The new terminal in Cengkareng is scheduled for completion in 2014. However, the most congested of all our international airports is still Ngurah Rai.
Thailand gets an average of 15 million tourists a year. What should Indonesia do to equal that?
Thailand looks at the whole service 'supply chain.' They make sure that all the dots are joined. Let me give you an example. When you arrive in Bangkok airport, there are some 20 or so young people waiting to help. They wear 'Can I Help you?' buttons, and they really do help you. If you try to tip them, they refuse it. They'll tell you that it is their job to help you. Whether it's with your taxi or which bus you need to get on, they will help you with this. They are very welltrained. I went to Phuket because everybody goes to Phuket. Nothing special there. But the packaging was so good.
Can you elaborate?
The tourist guide explained clearly how to get from one point to the next by bus, and then you can take a boat to see a rock which is featured in a James Bond film. It's just a rock you know, and not very beautiful either. The package however, was presented so attractively. If you boil it down, the tourism sector there receives the highest forms of attention from the Prime Minister, and previous prime ministers as well. This is real political commitment. Secondly, their strategies and message are consistent. They have a holistic view of how to service the tourist from end to end.
What is being done to boost the creative economies sector?
It requires a lot of work. A lot of creative industries can produce icons. And each icon becomes an attraction. So much so that people want to visit the country. Take Korea. With their Kpop culture, the movies, the Korean music, Korea has become a big magnet for people, pulling them to visit Korea. The moment, for instance, you have a famous film shot in your country, that's a big tourism attraction. Remember the movie Sound of Music? It was shot decades ago in Austria. But people still visit the hills in Austria where the film's theme song The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music was shot. This is an industry developed around that movie. You just need one hit.
At the ATF, sustainable tourism and investment opportunities in ASEAN will be discussed. What is your view on this?
We in ASEAN want to create a positive policy for investment. Within connectivity, there are investment opportunities whether it's the opening up of airline routes, or if one wants to develop a cruise ship business. Our policies on investment and on ASEAN cooperation will lead to the easing of visa regulations, to connectivity and movement of professional workers. We want an open skies policy. For cargo it has worked out, but not yet for passengers on a large scale and we want this. We have 26 international airports and we have to make use of this effectively. Singapore only has 1 in comparison. Investments will also come in to support the MP3EI, particularly for Bali, Lombok, West and East Nusa Tenggara. Secondly, there is the special economic zone for tourism. We have approved Tanjung Lesung in Banten as the first. It is massive, about 1000 hectares. The beach is amazing and it is opposite Ujung Kulon. There will be an integrated resort there, like in Nusa Dua.
Issue: 20/12, January 11, 2012