Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) Province, has been recognized as the Best Halal Tourist Destination and the Best Halal Honeymoon Destination during the World Halal Travel Awards 2015 held in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, in October, in conjunction with the World Halal Travel Summit 2015.
Some 65 percent of the 4.7 million population of NTB, live in Lombok, and up to 93 percent of them are Muslims.
"I hope these awards can serve as a starting point to seriously develop Lombok as a halal tourism destination," NTB Deputy Governor Muhammad Amin said.
The two awards have made the West Nusa Tenggara administration proud and optimistic of promoting its tourist objects nationally and internationally to attract more domestic as well as foreign tourists.
"After we received the best halal tourism 2015 awards in Abu Dhabi, we are optimistic of introducing NTB to countries in the Middle East as the region is one of our targets," NTB Tourism Office Head Lalu Muhammad Faozal stated in Jakarta, on December 14, 2015, after the launch of the tourism brand of "The Charm of Lombok Sumbawa".
Faozal believes that the two World Halal Travel Awards received by Lombok could help promote tourism objects in NTB.
He will also encourage airlines serving the Middle East-Bali routes to make a stopover in NTB.
Flight connectivity with Middle Eastern countries is crucial to attract Arab tourists.
"So far, Middle Eastern and European Muslim tourists have visited Indonesia through Jakarta and Bali and then to Lombok. We are optimistic that one day they would arrive directly in Lombok," he noted.
The NTB tourism office has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with PT Accor Asia Pacific (AAPC) Indonesia to organize tourism promotion events in Middle Eastern countries.
NTB hopes to attract 20 to 30 percent of its tourists in 2016 from the Middle Eastern countries.
So far, Middle Eastern tourists visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is known as a Muslim tourist-friendly destination.
However, Faozal is optimistic that NTB would be their next destination after the province won the worlds best halal tourist destination award and the best halal honeymoon destination.
He remarked that the target markets are not only Muslim-majority countries but also non-Muslim nations in Europe and America.
"Muslims in the Middle East and Europe now know Lombok better. They are enthusiastic because apart of Kuala Lumpur, Lombok is also a halal destination," he remarked.
The NTB tourism office has improved facilities and services for Muslim tourists, for instance, by providing halal food and easy access to facilities for Islamic prayers and other activities in accordance with the Islamic laws (sharia).
"We are establishing cooperation with the MUI (Indonesian Ulemas Council) to obtain halal certificates, particularly for providing food and services to Muslim tourists," he pointed out.
The NTB administration has set a target to attract three million tourists in 2016.
"We are optimistic that the target to attract three million tourists in 2016 would be achieved, comprising 50 percent foreign tourists and the rest domestic tourists," Faozal stated.
NTB attracted 2.25 million tourists in 2012, 2.49 million in 2013, and 2.51 million in 2014.
"In 2015, we will reach nearly three million, if possible more than that. We are optimistic," he noted.
He expressed optimism despite the fact that the Mount Barujari eruption had affected the provinces tourism industry as the local airports were closed due to the volcanic ash.
Chairman of the Association of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA) of the NTB chapter Dewantoro Umbu Joka stated that every domestic tourist, on an average, spends Rp5 million in NTB, while each foreign tourist spends Rp8 million while holidaying in the province.
With the target of attracting three million tourists, NTB is expected to generate Rp750 billion in revenue from tourism.
The Indonesian government has set a target to annually attract 20 million foreign tourists, and 275 million domestic tourists in the next five years. The country hopes to earn up to Rp240 trillion in foreign exchange and create 13 million jobs in the tourism industry.
The tourism sector has employed some 11 million people and contributed foreign exchange worth around US$11 billion in the previous years.
The government plans to develop 10 main tourist destinations to help boost the countrys economic growth, according to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Rizal Ramli.
"We will develop 10 main tourist destinations in Indonesia apart from Bali Island as other regions also hold huge potential," Minister Ramli stated during a Core Economic Outlook discussion.
Lombok is one of the 10 main tourist destinations, together with other regions such as Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Flores in East Nusa Tenggara, Raja Ampat in West Papua, Borobudur in Yogyakarta, and Mount Bromo in Central Java.
Located just east of Bali, Lombok Island has been known as "an unspoiled Bali" for its beautiful white sand beaches, enchanting waterfalls, the large, looming volcano of Mount Rinjani, and relatively few tourists.
Senggigi beach, for instance provides picturesque views of Mount Agung on Bali Island to the west, and stunning sunsets with the volcano silhouetted on the horizon (Antara)