Indonesia wants the world's tourists to know it's more than just Bali.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu wants to market lesser known attractions — such as Komodo Island in Nusa Tenggara, the home of giant lizards, and Wakatobi, a diving haven in Sulawesi — to raise the number of tourists from last year's record eight million to 10 million in 2014 and 30 million by 2025.
Her ministry has targeted 16 destinations for cruises, eco-tourism, and culinary and sports tourism. It is also encouraging hotel chains to set up tourism academies to train more staff.
Indonesia's tourism sector, which accounts for some 5 per cent of GDP, has been under-marketed in past years as regions promoted themselves without a unified theme.
Strong economic growth of above 6 per cent since 2010 has boosted domestic tourism as a growing Indonesian middle class travels from one corner of the archipelago to another, forcing improvements to outdated infrastructure.
Mari said 11 airports will be upgraded or built this year, and seven next year. Another 90 seaports will be developed in the next three years, 10 of them for large cruise ships.
"We are in a good neighborhood because Asia will continue to grow and there is a good chance to increase these numbers as more people take to traveling," the trained economist and former trade minister said.
She said her ministry was targeting 10 per cent growth in tourist numbers each year, up from 5 to 6 per cent annually.
There has been a rise in the number of visitors from China and Russia, although most tourists continue to come from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.
Arrivals from Thailand and the Philippines have grown by double digits each year, she added.
For many years, Bali has been the big tourist spot in the sprawling archipelago of some 17,000 islands. To persuade tourists to go beyond Bali, her ministry is working on the tagline "Wonderful Indonesia."
Hotel chains recognize the potential for growth in tourism. US hotel chain brand Best Western, for example, aims to open 25 new hotels across the nation over three years, increasing the number of rooms it has from 600 to 3,500 by 2015.
According to STR Global, which provides research on the hotel industry, Indonesia has the third-largest number of hotel developments after China and India.
Mari said Indonesia had signed agreements with Singapore Airlines and SilkAir to market other destinations, by, for example, flying directly to Lombok from Singapore. She is seeking similar direct flights to places like Manado, North Sulawesi and Lake Toba in Sumatra.
Indonesia will dredge some ports to create deeper harbors for bigger cruise ships to berth. But the challenge now also lies in finding enough trained workers.
The ministry has four tourism academies which work with local governments in the 16 new destinations to help train workers.
"The problem is we don't have enough people in hospitality... and the high hotel expansion is causing a lot of poaching," she said. Another challenge is to prevent damage to the environment, sometimes caused by too much human activity from tourism.
She said there is an urgent need to emphasize cleanliness and to ensure simple things such as providing rubbish bins and educating tourists to be responsible. For now, she said Indonesia needs to put out a consistent message.
"We have too much to say because we are so diverse... Sometimes it becomes confusing and a lot of times lost on people who don't know Indonesia." (Jakarta Globe/Straits Times)