Mon, 21 Jul 2003

Holidays fail to boost tourism

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government policy on extended holidays has failed to boost tourism as it is not supported by sufficient transportation infrastructure or promotion to persuade domestic tourists to travel, a practitioner says.

Chairwoman of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies (ASITA) Meity Robot said on Sunday the policy managed to only slightly increase the number of tourists to Indonesia.

"Some of the problems are related to limited seat availability: How can you go on holiday if all flights and trains are fully booked?" Meity asked The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

She further pointed to the lack of coordination between airlines and hotels to create attractive holiday packages for vacationers.

"It seems that we do not speak the same language in boosting the tourism industry," the businesswoman said.

Since the Bali bombings in October 2002, the government has decided to prolong or shift national holidays to create long weekends. The decision was meant to persuade domestic tourists to take holidays and visit domestic tourist resorts around the country.

For 2004, the government has decided to continue the policy by announcing nine long weekends through the year.

Coordinating Minister for Social Welfare Jusuf Kalla claimed that the decision was based on resurrecting the tourism industry following the adoption of the policy in 2003, although he did not have any data that showed an increase.

He maintained the decision was needed not just to boost tourism, but to improve the work efficiency of civil servants.

Meity admitted that the extended holidays had done a favor to the tourism industry when Asia was hardest hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The outbreak prevented Indonesians from traveling aboard, she said.

However, as soon as it eased, countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hongkong, which were among the worst SARS-infected countries, began to promote their own tourist industries in a more aggressive way than ever before, Meity said.

"They have offered packages that we cannot compete with; together with the lack of transportation seats, people are likely to choose to travel abroad rather than to other parts of the country," she added.

She said that it would be unfair to say that the decision was fruitless, but it required much more support to boost the number of domestic tourists.

"We have produced attractive packages and are actively promoting them to attract both domestic and foreign tourists; otherwise, many players will just go out of business," Meity remarked.