There is a growing trend among Middle Eastern tourists to move eastward in recent years, many of them have found Indonesia as an ideal place to spend their vacation with family. As a result, this marvelous island state with its impressive resorts, enchanting sandy beaches and welcoming people receives millions of tourists from around the world, especially from Saudi Arabia.
Among Indonesia’s 17,500 islands, Bali stands out as the most popular global tourist destination in the country. People from different parts of the world including China, Japan, Australia, Europe and the Middle East visit this beautiful island located between Java and Lombok. Bali is one of the 33 provinces of Indonesia.
Bali is known for its spectacular mountain sceneries, eye-catching beaches and friendly people. Its sheer natural beauty of looming volcanoes and lush terraced rice fields exude peace and serenity. Its dramatic folk dances and colorful ceremonies as well as its arts and crafts and luxurious beach resorts draw millions of tourists and holidaymakers.
The magical island continues to amaze both local and international visitors. It attracts a variety of visitors from around the globe: From those who come to surf the waves of Kuta, Uluwatu and Dreamland, to others who love the panoramic beauty of mountains and lakes at Batur, Kintamani, or Lake Beratan at Bedugul, to those who merely love shopping or spending endless days on the beach.
Bali also promotes conference tourism. I visited the island recently to take part in Garuda Indonesia’s celebrations marking the national flag carrier’s joining of the global SkyTeam alliance. Indonesian Tourism Minister Ibu Mari Elka Pangestu, who was present at the event, said the SkyTeam membership would fortify Garuda’s global position and bring the world to Indonesia, in terms of tourism and trade.
Addressing the celebration dinner at The Mulia six-star hotel in Bali, Pangestu described travel and tourism as the fastest growing industry in the world with 185 billion tourists. “Tourism in Southeast Asia is growing at the rate of 12 percent annually with Indonesia playing a big role in the market,” she said. More than 8.8 million foreign tourists, including 110,000 Saudis visited Indonesia in 2013, while Bali alone received nearly three million tourists.
Esthy Reko Astuty, director general of tourism marketing at the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, told Arab News that her department was targeting 250,000 tourists from the Middle East this year, including 150,000 from Saudi Arabia. “We offer Shariah-compliant tourism with hotels providing halal food and prayer places.” Female Spa therapists have been made available for women tourists intending to have the treatment.
“We are promoting 16 destinations among Middle Eastern tourists,” Astuty said. “We want to promote Indonesian tourism not only in Bali, but beyond Bali,” she pointed out. Jakarta, East Java and Kalimantan are recommended for Saudi tourists. Her organization intends to participate in the next travel and tourism exhibition in Riyadh as part of a campaign to attract more Saudi tourists to Indonesia.
Bali became a major tourist destination in the country because its administration worked hard to promote the island compared to other islands. “Their culture is another factor. Extending all forms of services to tourists is part and parcel of their culture,” said Nia Niscaya, director of international tourism promotion. “In Bali, you can reach the beach and mountain area within an hour. This makes Bali different.”
However, she pointed out that other destinations in Indonesia are also getting popular. “People go to Bali and add more destinations to explore our wonderful country. For Middle Easterners Bali is picking up with Shariah-tourism,” said Niscaya.
Bali is an ideal place not only for celebrations, conferences and training programs but also for marine sports. A good start for surfers is Kuta beach. But the best waves in Bali are at Uluwatu at the southern tip of the island, which is the site for international competitions. Surfers also love the waves at Nusa Lembongan near Nusa Penida, located south east of Bali facing the Indian Ocean.
The topography of Bali is formed by a mountain chain that stretches from west to east splitting the island into two parts. Some of the volcanic peaks are active, including Mount Agung, 3,142m, the tallest point above sea level, and Mount Batur 1717m. Some barren peaks include Merbuk, Patas, Seraya, Prapat Agung, Klatakan and Sanghyang. The north side of the mountain slopes is fairly steep, creating narrow lowland along the coastal area.
With the increasing number of direct flights to Bali from some parts of the world, the island is easily accessible for tourists. From Bali, flight to Jakarta is about 1.5 hours, to Singapore and Perth (Australia) 2.5 and 3 hours, to Hong Kong about 4.5 hours, and to Sydney/Melbourne about 5.5 to 6 hours, with various airlines offering their services.
Garuda plays a big role in linking the country with other parts of the world. Fikdanel Thaufik, general manager of the airline for Saudi Arabia and Middle East, believes that SkyTeam membership would enable Garuda passengers to access more than 15,000 flights daily to over 1,000 destinations worldwide.
“The number of passengers between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia will grow continuously because of the presence of the Holy Kaaba and the Two Holy Mosques,” Thaufik told Arab News. “Population is another potential factor. We have nearly 300 million in Indonesia and 95 percent of them are Muslims. “There are only two airlines — Garuda and Saudia — that operate direct flights to the Kingdom,” the manager said while emphasizing his desire to boost cooperation with Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Many Saudi families visit Indonesia to spend their annual vacation. “By going to Indonesia they can see more things and save more money,” he said. “I am expecting a growth rate of at least 25 percent in traffic between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia this year.” Garuda transports more than 100,000 Indonesian pilgrims from 10 embarkation points in the country. “When Saudi authorities cut the number of foreign pilgrims by 20 percent, more and more people are traveling for Umrah.”
Garuda operates two flights daily to Jeddah from Jakarta, said Shahid Fareed, Garuda’s sales manager for Saudi Arabia. Last April, it started operating three flights weekly from Surabaya to Jeddah. “We have plans to operate flights from Makassar and Medan to Saudi Arabia by the end of May,” he added.
Aligned with the arrival of the Boeing 777-300ER, Garuda Indonesia also introduced a new full service concept. In addition to the “First Class” service, Garuda also offers improved “Executive Class” and “Economy Class” services. “The service design on the three classes is based on the characteristics of each class. “First Class” is intimate, authentic, and engaging. “Executive Class” service is more energetic, authentic, and dynamic, while “Economy Class” service is dynamic, positive, and warm,” said Fareed.
Garuda Indonesia’s service improvement and business transformation, through its long-term plan, has gained appreciation from numerous international institutions, who have awarded Garuda with a number of prestigious awards. During one of the biggest air shows in the world, Paris Air Show 2013, Garuda Indonesia was named “The World’s Best Economy Class” by Skytrax London, Fareed says.
Five star facilities
There are a number of five star and four star hotels in Bali including Inter.Continental and Four Seasons. Michel Chertouh, general manager of Inter.Continental Bali Resort, told Arab News that Garuda’s SkyTeam membership would enable his hotel to have more clients from the Middle East and other parts of the world.
“InterContinental has a strong brand presence in the Middle East and we can leverage on our reputation and we find this destination extremely appealing,” Chertouh said. Bali has established an emotional connection with world travelers, he said, adding that the sensibility of Saudi travelers would be touched by the Balinese hospitality and traditions.
“We have a clear understanding of the values and principles of Saudi travelers and we respect them as well as their culture and requirements. Indonesia is one of the major Muslim countries in the world. About 25 percent of hotel business comes from within Indonesia and most of them are Muslim travelers. So we understand the values and requirements of our Muslim customers,” he said.
The manager added: “Our hotel is designed in a traditional way and in the form of a resort facility. At the same time it offers a five-star luxury environment. Our club experience is quite unique. Ours is a resort within the resort. This provides privacy and luxury and it’s unique compared to other resorts in the city.” The hotel provides international cuisine, which caters to the needs of all customers. “We have Japanese and Italian restaurants as well as seafood and grill restaurants,” he added.
The Indonesian government provides visa on arrival (VOA) to citizens of 65 countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, India, Turkey, Egypt, South Korea, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Australia. VOA is effective for 30 days and is extendable for 30 days. Tourists entering the country must have passports valid for at least six months as of the date of arrival and a round-trip ticket or evidence of continuing overseas travel.