Destination & Tourism, James Ruggia
The karst caves of Sulawesi, an Indonesian island near Borneo, are home to art that scientists now believe is as old as the oldest cave art in the world. And unless you keep up with scientific journals you’re probably unaware of that, even though that’s exactly the sort of information that lends a destination the mystique necessary to attract long-haul travelers from the U.S. and Europe from the other side of the world. That sums up a lot of the issue for Indonesian tourism. Though it’s got more tourism resources spread across its many islands than anywhere else in Southeast Asia, few travelers know much about it other than what the big resort hotels in Bali can get out through their individual marketing channels.
Bali knows how to get the word out well enough to attract about a third of all of the tourists to the 17,000-island nation. In fact, Bali is so successful that its airport, which caters almost entirely to tourists, processes more passengers than the country’s capital and gateway, Jakarta.
At this point, Bali gets so many tourists that it’s seriously hurting that special local culture’s ability to remain authentic. Therefore it behooves Indonesia to get a better spread of visitors. This year, with their oil-driven economy struggling a bit, the country seems more ready to market tourism as a serious industry. Their marketing people will find plenty to work with in a country with powerful tourism resources for romance, adventure, diving, culture and more.
A few weeks ago Indonesian Minister of Tourism Arief Yahya said that given the necessary budget, Indonesia could go from the 9.4 million foreign tourists it received in 2014 to 15 million by 2016. This year, Indonesia believes it will attract an estimated 10 million foreign tourists, spending about $1 billion. Yahya hopes to secure about $376 million to achieve what would be a 59 percent increase.
While the current 10 million visitors Indonesia is getting may sound like a reasonable number for the country, in truth it’s underperforming in an ASEAN region packed with potent short-haul markets. Thailand and Malaysia, with all of the obstacles that they’ve had to overcome in recent years, drew 25 million and 27.4 million tourists respectively in 2014.
One short five-day package from Destination Asia to Sulawesi demonstrates the country’s potential. The package explores Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve, home to pristine forest, a secluded coastline and impressive offshore coral gardens as well as a plethora of mammals, birds and reptiles. Guests staying at the Cocotinos Manado Resort take guided wildlife walks both day and night, go diving and snorkeling in Bunaken National Marine Park. The resort has a fully serviced onsite dive center offering excursions to many of the best dive sites with island visits.
Hoteliers see Indonesia’s potential for business and leisure travel. Best Western recently opened its fourth Premier-branded hotel in Indonesia in Solo, Central Java. The Best Western Premier Solo Baru is the chain’s 14th hotel in Indonesia and its first in Solo. It is also the fourth upscale Best Western Premier hotel in the country, following existing properties in Jakarta and Bali.
Best Western Asia first launched in Bangkok in 2001 and now covers 15 countries in the region, with more than 100 hotels either operating or in the pipeline. The Best Western Premier Solo Baru is Solo’s tallest hotel; its Sky Fitness Center looks out on Baru from the 22nd floor. The hotel also has a spa and an outdoor infinity-edged swimming pool.
Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts will manage the 170-room Swissôtel Bali when it opens in late 2017. Located on a cliff top in Bukit Pandawa, the resort will have views of the Indian Ocean, a private beach club, four dining outlets, the brand’s signature Pürovel Spa & Sport, and more.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has set a goal for 20 million foreign tourists a year by 2019. To achieve that there will need to be a serious commitment to marketing as well as major investments in infrastructure including airports, roads and more. The lowest hanging fruit as far as a swift return on investment appears to be in the cruise sector. Indonesia’s got the islands, but not the ports. In the most recent figures available, some 160,000 passengers arrived in Indonesia by cruise in 2013, as cruise ships made 309 calls at Indonesian ports, an increase of 44 percent over 2012.