The three major disasters that happened last October in the Indonesian provinces of West Papua, West Sumatra, and Central Java killing more than 600 people are not expected to affect the flow of foreign tourists to the country projected at 6.7 to 7 million this year.
"In our observations at some entry gates such as Soekarno Hatta airport in Jakarta, Ngurah Rai airport in Bali, Polonia airport in Medan as well as at Hang Nadim in Batam, we did not see a decline in the arrivals of foreign tourists in the country," Minister of Culture and Tourism Jero Wacik said on Monday night.
A monstrous flash flood swept through the district town of Wasior in West Papua on October 3, killing 123 locals. While rescuers were still working to provide assistance for the victims in Wasior, a towering tsunami triggered by a magnitude-7.2 earthquake crippled villages in Metawai Islands district, West Sumatra on October 25, 2010. No less than 450 people were killed and 96 others went missing.
Amid mourning about the loss of lives in Mentawai, Mt Merapi in Sleman district near Yogyakarta erupted and showed its `ferocious anger` by sending out hot clouds and other volcanic materials which burnt anything on the mountain`s slopes. A total of 23 people were killed, including its `spiritual guardian` Mbah Maridjan, and thousands of others were evacuated.
However, the eruption of the world`s most active volcano would not affect the visits of foreign tourists to the Buddhist Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Central Java, and in other tourist destinations in Yoyakarta, such as Kaliurang.
The disaster would neither affect the interest of foreign tourists who wanted to enjoy surfing in the Mentawai Islands because they could shift their destinations to other world-class surfing sites such as in Nias islands, North Sumatra and Plengkung beach in East Java, the minister said.
"Indonesia has such a vast territory and so many beaches that when a disaster takes place in one place, tourists can easily go to alternative spots in the country. The problem can then arise if tourists do not know Indonesia`s map. There could only be problem if tourists do not know the map of Indonesia which could lead them to believe that a volcanic eruption such as Mt Merapi`s would affect all areas in Indonesia," Minister Jero Wacik said.
Therefore, the ministry of culture and tourism as well as other tourism stakeholders would continue to promote and explain the conditions of the disasters in the country to the world so that world tourists would not be scared to come to Indonesia.
In the meantime, the number of tourist arrivals in Indonesia in the first nine months of 2010 rose 12.26 percent to 5.19 million from the same period last year, which stood at 4.61 million, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said.
In September 2010 alone, 560,367 foreign tourists visited Indonesia, up 13.48 percent from the same month last year, BPS chief Rusman Heriawan said on Monday. But the figure represented a 4.46 percent decline compared to August 2010.
"The decline in the number of tourist arrivals in September was particularly caused by seasonal factors because September is a low season," he said. In total, all the 19 gateways across the country saw a 15.87 percent increase in the number of tourist arrivals in September 2010 with Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali taking the lead with 232,519 tourist arrivals, up 6.54 percent from the same month last year, he said. But the figure fell 4.40 percent compared to the month before.
Over the January-September 2010 period, Adi Sumarmo airport in Solo, Central Java, recorded a 46.7 percent increase in the number of tourist arrivals, the highest among the 19 gateways. This was followed by Soekarno-Hatta airport with 36.41 percent.
Meanwhile, Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta recorded the lowest increase in the number of tourist arrivals, namely 0.08 percent. "Hopefully, the number of tourist arrivals in the upcoming months will be higher than that of the previous year," he said.
Minister Jero Wacik had earlier even expressed optimism that the number of foreign tourists who visited Indonesia in 2010 would exceed the target of seven million. "I am confident that the 7 million foreign tourist arrival target will be achieved or even exceeded," the minister said early last month.
He said that his optimism over the foreign tourist arrivals was based on the fact that the average number of arrivals of foreign tourists per month in the country at present was 12 - 13 percent. The figure far exceeded the average number of foreign tourists arriving in Indonesia per month in 2009 which stood at 9 percent.
"Until the end of the year, we will at least have an average of 10 percent and this percentage already exceeds that of last year or that would mean it would be over 7 million tourists," the minister said.
His side predicted that in December or at the end of the year the arrivals of foreign tourists in the country would jump up significantly. "After all, December is a peak season, so that it could be ascertained that there would be significant increase in the number of foreign tourist arrivals," he said.
The minister said that his side would never stop carrying out promotion in a number of countries which became the focus of Indonesia`s tourism market.
Moreover, tourists from neighboring countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, still prefer Indonesia as a destination country for holidaying.
A survey conducted by Visa-Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) has shown that Indonesia will within the next two years become the most important destination for Singaporean, Malaysian and Australian tourists.
Of the survey respondents, 29 percent were Malaysian, 18 percent Australian, and 15 percent Singaporean tourists, said Ellyana Fuad, country manager of Visa Indonesia here Monday. She said many of the foreign tourists said they believed Indonesia would be the most important destination for tourists from the three countries within the next two years, meaning Indonesian tourism was facing bright prospects.
"Indonesia offers unique blends of traditional cultures, popular and delicious food and also the best and most beautiful beaches in the world," she said.