We don't see how the new tourism law which was passed by the House of Representatives last week will contribute to further developing Indonesia into a major destination for global tourists.
Simply speaking, the new legislation fails to provide new, strong building blocks for strengthening the main pillars of the travel and tourism industry -- the regulatory and physical infrastructure, hygiene and health and other support services.
The law does specifically stipulate the imperative need for strategic coordination of policies and activities among the various sectors related to travel and tourism such as customs, immigration, quarantine, security and order, physical infrastructure, health and promotional activities.
But it does not elaborate on how this policy coordination will be institutionalized and managed on a day-to-day basis, only saying that the coordination will be led by the President and the Vice President and the technical details will be formulated in a presidential decree.
This deficiency is quite damaging because lack of coordination either of policies or of activities in tourism-related sectors has become one of the biggest barriers to wooing foreign tourists to Indonesia.
The latest example is how the well-intentioned policy of certifying imported food and beverages -- which was designed to protect the interests of consumers -- became bogged down in bureaucratic inertia, causing supply disruption at the expense of foreign visitors and foreign residents.
The visa policy also often does not consider the target countries of our tourist promotional programs.
The new law instead institutionalizes the coordination of tourism promotion activities through the establishment of a private-sector (independent) tourism promotion agency by tourism-related businesspeople which will be in charge of coordinating promotional programs within the country and overseas. The agency will be run by a governing board in charge of promotional policy making and a management board in charge of the daily execution of promotional activities.
Unfortunately, this new agency will have to raise by itself the bulk of its operating funds, a major deficiency that will forever bar it from developing into a powerful agency such as the Tourism Authority of Thailand or the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board.
The law also allows provincial and regency administrations to set up regional tourism promotion agencies. However, without clear-cut statutory mandates and funding, their effectiveness will be highly questionable.
Moreover, the government seems unaware that promotion touches only the end of the long chain of activities required to produce the goods and services needed by tourists.
Of most importance is the quality of the end-product or the image of Indonesia as a tourist destination. But this quality or image is determined, not by promotional activities, but primarily and largely by how efficient, reliable and good are our regulatory and physical infrastructures (customs, visa, health, transportation, hotels and other support services).
The legislation does not elaborate either on how the Culture and Tourism Ministry will be related to the national tourism promotion agency and regional tourism promotional agencies.
Therefore, we don't expect much from the tourism law in the way of strengthening the regulatory and physical infrastructure of our tourism industry.
This is quite unfortunate because the volume of international tourism within the next two years is estimated to decrease due to the global economic downturn and the competition for tourist dollars will become much keener.
Fast-growing, emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mexico and South Korea have increasingly become major sources of newly affluent travelers. Last year, for example, the Russians made a total of 34.3 million trips abroad and the Chinese 47 million, according to the World Tourism and Travel Council.
We greatly doubt whether we have designed promotional programs specifically to woo tourists from these emerging economies.
It is needless to re-emphasize the multiplier effect and labor-intensive nature of tourism-related businesses, in sectors such as hotels, restaurants, transportation and handicrafts -- the very kind of businesses needed to absorb the huge pool of job seekers.
Indonesia, though quite rich in culture, natural attractions and historical heritage, will thus remain among the least favorite destination areas in the ASEAN region. Tourist arrivals for the first ten months of this year totaled only 5.09 million, already larger than the 5.05 million in all of 2007, but still far below the target of 7 million set for this year. This figure is even more miserable compared to the average annual arrivals in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia which exceed 12 million.