Fri, 19 Dec 2008
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Almost certain to meet this year's revised downward target, the government remains boldly confident foreign tourist arrivals will rise 25 percent next year, betting partly on the results of higher promotional budgets, says a ministry official.

Sapta Nirwandar, a director general at the Culture and Tourism Ministry said Thursday, the industry would continue to grow despite the global economic downturn and financial crisis due to loyal travelers who visited Indonesia to pursue their hobbies and for cultural reasons.

"This is a crisis-proof industry," Sapta told a seminar on tourism.

For 2009 the ministry forecast 8 million people would visit the country, 1 million more than the initial target, compared to a targeted 6.4 million for this year.

This seems overly optimistic, since until the end of October, foreign tourist arrivals stood at 5.09 million. With monthly arrivals averaging 500,000, many have expressed doubts the full-year 2008 target can be achieved, even with help from the Visit Indonesia Year program.

In 2007, 5.05 million tourists traveled to Indonesia.

For next year, Sapta anticipated a decline in arrivals from the United States and European countries, but largely compensated for by an increase in visitors from South Korea, China and the Middle East.

"We are going to promote more health and beauty tourism, also marine tourism and smaller islands," Sapta said.

Hobbyists, such as surfers and divers, and the nature and culture oriented travelers would not take Indonesia off their agendas, he said. "Small islands and new destinations would be promoted more intensely."

Promotion activities would be helped by a 10 percent increase in the promotional budget for 2009 to Rp 285 billion (around US$25.8 million).

"We have more than 300 ethnic groups, and these rich cultures never fail to attract tourists," he said.

Chairwoman of Indonesian Association of Hotels & Restaurant (PHRI) Yanti Sukamdani welcomed the plans for more intensive promotional activities.

"The association is more than ready to welcome international tourists, because we now have a special agency to give certificates to tourism professionals."

"The agency will be launched Friday," Yanti said.

She brought a long wish list for the government though, from international airports to lower taxes on imported beverages.

"We need more international airports. For example, one third of tourists coming to Bintan were from Singapore, one third from Japan and Korea, and one third from everywhere else including Russia. Why don't we build an (international) airport over there?"

"We also need to give visas on arrival at more international gates, such as in Kupang and Merauke." Another wish was: "Cleaner toilets, especially in airports."

The tourism industry is a key foreign exchange income earner for Indonesia. In 2007, it brought $5.345 billion into the country.



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