With more than 17,000 islands and some of the richest biodiversity on earth, Indonesia is a natural paradise. To go along with its breathtaking natural scenery, the archipelago also boasts a hugely diverse range of cultures and religions.
Whether you want to take in the world’s highest diversity of coral species while diving the reefs of Raja Ampat in West Papua, stroll ancient temple compounds in Central Java or walk among real-life prehistoric dragons on Komodo Island in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia has something for travelers of all stripes.
How then, can you sum up this myriad of tourism riches in a single slogan.
This was the challenge facing members of Indonesia’s Tourism Ministry running up to the unveiling last week of the country’s new official tourism slogan for 2011, “Wonderful Indonesia.”
Reaction to the new slogan has been mixed, with some expressing remorse that the older, more direct slogan, “Visit Indonesia,” had been dropped.
Like it or hate it, most travelers and tourism industry insiders agree that, along with the new, flashy slogan, Indonesia needs a new and better approach to managing a national tourism industry that continues to struggle despite being blessed with almost limitless potential.
According to the official Web site of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, Indonesia ranks No. 4 in tourist arrivals on a list of all Southeast Asian countries. Malaysia, at No. 1, hosted more than 23 millions international tourists in 2009, followed by Thailand and Singapore, respectively.
Despite what on paper appears to be a chronic underperformance, there is reason to believe that Indonesian tourism is on the brink of a new golden era — if it can capitalize on some recent trends.
The Tourism Ministry has released new data for 2010 showing that it was a record year for international arrivals, with seven million foreign tourists visiting Indonesia. The ministry said that these tourists pumped around $7.6 billion into the economy.
In addition, the ministry also reported that Indonesians themselves are getting out to explore the wonders of their own country in greater numbers than ever before.
Last year some 234 million Indonesians fanned out to beaches, hiking trails and resorts all across the archipelago in search of fun and adventure, adding Rp 138 trillion ($15.5 billion) to the economy in the process — a 3.05 percent increase from the 229 million local travelers reported in 2009.
The ministry has set a goal for 7.7 million international tourist arrivals in 2011, a 10 percent increase from 2010.
It is in support of this target that the Tourism Ministry has introduced its new slogan.
The new slogan is accompanied by a logo depicting the country’s national Garuda symbol drawn in five different colors.
“The aura around 2011 is very positive,” Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik wrote recently on the ministry’s Web site.
Despite Jero’s enthusiasm, most industry insiders think that it will take more than a positive aura to meet the new goal.
Tara Seprita, a strategic planner at the Grey Jakarta advertising agency, said slogans, logos and taglines were an important part of this type of large-scale campaign, but she added that there must also be something behind the slogan that backed up the brand’s vision and mission.
Tara said that, by its nature, the global tourism industry is cluttered with many countries vying for their share of the tourist dollar.
Usually, one country’s campaign is no better or more distinctive than other countries’ campaigns.
It’s very difficult to stand out in this type of an environment. Doing so takes much more than just a catchy slogan, she said.
Dewi Wilaisono, a housewife, avid traveler, photographer and scuba diver, said she supported the slogan change.
“There’s no other word that can represent Indonesia besides ‘wonderful,’ ” said Dewi, who has traveled to almost every province in Indonesia.
Tara, however, believes that there is room for improvement. “Wonderful Indonesia” is not very focused, she said, adding that there are too many messages that the ministry is trying to get across in one line.
She thinks that the previous slogan, “Visit Indonesia,” was more to the point.
It’s not easy to determine which one is better, she said.
“In the end, a slogan doesn’t really matter that much — the most important thing is how well the overall strategy is implemented.”
Celebrated traveler Trinity, known to her readers as The Naked Traveler, agrees.
She said that a catchy new slogan is useless unless it is part of an larger integrated campaign.
Trinity, whose two books, “The Naked Traveler” and “The Naked Traveler 2,” have become national best sellers, complained that finding information about Indonesian tourism was still difficult.
“Try to search ‘Indonesia’ and ‘tourism’ on Google, the chances are you’ll have a hard time finding Indonesia’s official tourism Web site,” she said.
Trinity pointed out that finding reliable, up-to-date travel information on the Internet remained one of the most problematic issues for foreign tourists.
And until this problem is fixed, all the new slogans in the world won’t help to increase Indonesia’s tourism, she added.
She blamed the Tourism Ministry for not appealing to the public to get more involved in support of the tourism industry.
She pointed out how other countries like Malaysia, with its “Truly Asia” campaign, had managed to communicate their strategies not only to the world, but to their own residents as well.
“The people there are proud of helping and supporting the tourism industry,” she said, adding that the opposite is often the reality in Indonesia.
When the new slogan was launched, Trinity said most of the residents she spoke with didn’t even know about it and those who did didn’t really know what it meant.
“I myself don’t really know what the new slogan really means,” Trinity admitted.
“If people don’t know what the government is doing in the tourism sector, they can’t be expected to know how to help and participate,” she said.
“It seems to me that the government wants to go forward by themselves. This isn’t right.”
Tara pointed out how the slogans of neighboring countries such as “Amazing Thailand” or “Infinitely Yours Seoul” were actually nothing special.
But the difference is that these slogans are a part of large, sustained and creative campaigns to lure tourists.
Tara said that Indonesia’s tourism officials needed to stop focusing only on traditional communication strategies and start thinking more creatively while focusing on Web-based digital implementation and access.
But despite the criticism, Jero remains optimistic that his office is on the right course and can boost the number of tourists coming to Indonesia.
“Culture is our strength and treasure that we can use to build our tourism industry,” he said.
Although she personally likes the new slogan, Dewi agreed that there was plenty more that needed to be done in order to improve tourism in Indonesia.
“We don’t promote hard enough to potential tourists abroad,” she said, adding that even domestic promotion is very limited. “Access to many tourism destinations is still bad.”
Trinity, who’s been to every province in Indonesia except Papua, said that infrastructure remained a great obstacle to boosting tourism.
She said that East Indonesia, which has huge potential to attract international tourists, still has very poor infrastructure, making traveling there difficult and costly.
But despite the problems, Indonesia still has the major advantage of being, well, Indonesia. There’s nowhere else like it on earth.
For this reason, people like Trinity are certain of Indonesia’s potential. “I don’t know one foreign traveler who doesn’t like Indonesia,” she said.
“The challenge is how to start getting people to come here first.”
Article by Tasa Nugraza Barley , The Jakarta Globe