Wed, 14 May 2008
Mariani Dewi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

What do the Balinese do with deceased royals? How can you see a flower show without splashing out for a flight to Pasadena, California? Where can you test your athletic endurance in a triathlon?

Indonesia provides the answers to all these questions during this year's Visit Indonesia program, according to Sapta Nirwandar, marketing director at the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

In Bali, Hindus cremate the deceased in a detailed ritual, called the Ngaben. This year the ritual will include royal members for the first time since 1979.

For flowers, visitors can go to the city of Tomohon in North Sulawesi.

"We will hold the Tomohon Flower Festival in June. If we keep pushing, it is possible that it will become a big flower festival, perhaps like the one in Pasadena," Sapta said.

Bintan Island in Riau province, meanwhile, on top of its beaches and resorts, will host a triathlon this year, in addition to regular golf competitions.

And, according to Sapta, these represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the special events planned for Visit Indonesia Year 2008.

Batam Island, for example, will host a vegetarian food festival in June that is expected to draw visitors from nearby Singapore.

The government, Sapta said, is using any and all promotional means to make Visit Indonesia Year a success.

The hit movie Ayat-Ayat Cinta, for example, has been used to market Indonesia to Muslims in neighboring Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

Special packages are being planned where anyone buying a certain amount of Indonesian coffee in Beijing during the Olympics will get discounts on trips here.

Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft and one of the richest people in the world, during his visit to Jakarta last week became an instant tourism promoter, mentioning the Visit Indonesia campaign in a speech while wearing a promotional pin on his shirt.

The government also sees the Visit Indonesia Year program as a trigger to get regional stakeholders more involved in promoting their tourism offerings.

"We want to get the regions to start their own tourism efforts and improve their infrastructure for tourism," Sapta said.

Provinces like Riau, South Sumatra and North Sulawesi have already started their own campaigns. Jambi, Lampung and South Kalimantan are expected to follow next year.

The government has set a target of attracting 7 million visitors this year, which would be a 1.5 million increase from 2007. In the first quarter, it has seen an increase of 15 percent in tourist arrivals.

The World Economic Forum said in a March report that Indonesia failed to provide good transportation infrastructure and international-standard hygiene and sanitation systems, deterring tourists from the country.



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