Tourism Minister Arief Yahya kicked off activities to promote pilgrimage tourism which has so far not been optimally developed in Indonesia.
"Currently, pilgrimage tourism needs to be developed more seriously, including the management of the destinations, the packaging of tourism product, and the promotion as well as marketing of special interest tourism segment," Minister Yahya said at a workshop and kick-off meeting on pilgrimage tourism destination development here on Friday.
The Tourism Minister said there has been a shift in tourism paradigm from "sun, sand and sea" to "serenity, sustainability and spirituality."
A study showed an increase of up to 165 percent in faith-based tourism over the past five years.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in 2010 estimated that some 330 million tourists, or 30 percent of the total global tourists, visited religious sites.
Indonesia has a number of pilgrimage and cultural heritage sites, such as ancient trails and sacred places, which date as far back as the seventh century. There are even megalithic sites in the country.
The country has a lot of characteristics to develop pilgrimage tourist destinations of Islam, Catholics, Christianity, Hindu, Buddha, Confucius, and 245 local faiths.
"We can say that Indonesia has a very complete package of religion-based tourist destinations which are internationally recognized," the minister said.
Indonesia has Borobudur Temple which has been recognized as a world cultural heritage, and Maria Sendangsono Cave which won the Aga Khan Award, he noted.
The government has set a target of attracting 20 million foreign tourists, and 275 million domestic tourists by 2019. The country hopes to earn up to Rp240 trillion in foreign exchange and create 13 million jobs in the tourism industry.
Indonesia plans to further promote "Wali Songo" (Nine Islamic Saints) as a pilgrimage route.
The Wali Songo sites are located in eight districts and cities in the provinces of East, Central and West Java.
According to the 2014 data from some sources, a total of 12.2 million domestic tourists visited the Wali Songo sites with each tourist on an average spending Rp300 thousand per visit, or a total of Rp3.6 trillion a year.
Some 3,000 foreign tourists visited the sites, with the total expenditure coming to US$450 thousand a year, or US$150 a day.
The tourism ministry hopes that the Wali Songo pilgrimage tourism will be able to attract 18 million domestic tourists, or 15 percent of the total target of domestic tourists, by 2019.
Some 18 million tourists are expected to spend Rp7.2 trillion in total per year, or Rp400 thousand per tourist per visit.
Some 10,000 foreign tourists are expected to visit Wali Songo sites and spend a total of US$1.5 million per year, or US$150 per day per person. (Antara)