Fri, 22 Dec 2000

New minister's daunting task is to lure back visitors

For more than three decades, the government has been trying in vain to make Indonesia the hottest tourist spot in the region. Thwarting its grand ambition is a poor management system, combined with the lack of a promotional budget and clumsily handled campaigns. The Jakarta Post's Rita A. Widiadana and Tantri Yuliandini met with new tourism minister I Gede Ardika to find out what he plans to do to tackle the country's old and new tourism woes.

JAKARTA (JP): The only consistency in the government's tourism policy over the years has been its conspicuous inability to implement a focused and coherent one.

The status of the official tourism office has changed and overlapped with other government sections since it was established in the early 1980s.

It was once fused in the Ministry of Tourism, Post and Telecommunications. A few years later, tourism was overviewed by the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, and then the state minister of tourism and arts.

In the current Cabinet, tourism is now under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Implementing each tourism drive depends also on who heads the ministry.

Past tourism ministers came from all walks of life, including high-ranking officers in the Army, art lovers and businessmen. Unfortunately, not all of the ministers had a clear vision on how to develop the country's tourism.

Employees at the ministry have their own jokes about their former chiefs. One minister was remembered as a businessman who knew very little about tourism and who kept coming late to the office. He spent most of his term holding business meetings with his colleagues in his luxurious and spacious office.

The appointment of career bureaucrat, I Gede Ardika, is expected to activate the ministry's efforts to boost the country's tourism.

Born in Singaraja, North Bali, in 1945, Ardika has spent most of his career in tourism. He graduated from the Bandung Hotel Institute in 1964 and continued his graduate studies in hotel management in Glion, Switzerland. Ardika also studied tourism planning at Bradford University in the United Kingdom.

The father of two daughters was director of the Tourism and Hotel Institute in Nusa Dua from 1978 to 1985 before joining the Ministry of Tourism, Post and Telecommunications in 1986. Between 1998 and 2000, he was the director general for tourism.

Question: How do you feel about being appointed a minister when tourism in the country is in such a dismal condition?

Answer: It is my fate to hold this position at this critical time. In 2001, we will concentrate on restoring Indonesia's tarnished image in the world. I admit this is a very hard job. We have been trying to promote Indonesia as safe and secure, but unpredictable incidents occur again and again. The last blow was the sweep for American tourists in Surakarta, in addition to the unrest in East Timor, Maluku and Aceh.

Q: As a new minister, what are your concepts on tourism?

A: From the very beginning, Indonesia has had a community-based tourism concept in which people play important roles in any tourism activities.

We try to build a balanced concept which is in line with our philosophical ideas and ideology. What I mean with this concept is a balance between individual and community life -- mentally as well as physically.

It also means a balance in managing our natural and human resources, in utilizing, managing and preserving them.

Actually, our ancestors practiced these concepts hundreds of years ago. It is quite awkward that people in the West are now trying to teach us about sustainable tourism.

Indonesia is known as a religious society. Therefore we build our tourism based on our religious beliefs. This means that we are not building tourism which is against our social and moral values.

Other countries may have different concepts and we have to respect them.

For sure, we are not going to make gambling a main tourist attraction in order to get money and to lure tourists.

Q: Could you be more specific?

A: There will be no more stories that our tourism merely seeks foreign exchange while sacrificing the basic concept.

Visitors coming to Indonesia are mostly impressed by its warmhearted people, as well as the natural and cultural richness.

And therefore, we must focus on involving the community in tourism and convince them they are stakeholders in the industry. Maintenance and preservation of nature and culture are obligatory.

The development of the tourism infrastructure and supporting facilities is important but it should benefit the people and not endanger the environment.

Q: But, in fact, our current tourism policy has yet to reflect such an ideal framework. Tourism has so far benefited only certain people. What is your opinion?

A: We can objectively portray our current effort in developing tourism which is, unfortunately, not in line with the original concept.

Our present tourism policy stresses more on growth that brings a trickle-down effect. This means that we focus first on accelerating tourism growth and the rest will follow.

I can also say that tourism facilities are mostly run by conglomerates. They are the ones who benefit most from the industry, while the community gains very little or almost nothing at all.

We want to drastically change the policy by empowering the people to actively take part in the industry. It is expected that growth will increase and at the same time people will also enjoy a profitable business.

Q: How can people gain from tourism?

A: Tourism has a very significant multiplier effect. In terms of scale and space, tourism can reach the most remote areas.

Take for example, people living on a faraway island or in an isolated mountainous area. They can still benefit from the industry through ecotourism programs.

By developing marine tourism, we can reach remote islands.

Tourism also has a tremendous impact on the development of other sectors such as agriculture and handicrafts, transportation, hotels, etc.

For example, if tourists come, they may need a large quantity of poultry, fruit, meat, fish and other agricultural products. They also need hotels, transportation and entertainment facilities.

If tourism grows well, it can also boost growth in other sectors.

Tourism embraces entire groups of society, from the lowest of the middle class to the upper class. It may absorb millions of workers.

As a simple illustration, when a large-scale business group builds hotels and other facilities, they have to hire people of different education levels. They may need university graduates to fill in managerial positions, but they also require people with a lower level of education to work as room boys.

To an extreme, people with no educational background can still contribute to the development of the industry -- take street vendors selling food and handicrafts. They are all the backbones of the industry.

Tourism could become one of the most viable sectors which survives in this time of crisis. We have natural resources and hotels, we don't need to invest more. We are just waiting for tourists to come.

Q: Would a community-based tourism eliminate the roles of large- scale businesses?

A: They are still expected to help small-scale businesses run their activities. There was an imbalance in business activities in the past in which the industry only involved the big fish.

They are encouraged to set up mutual partnerships with individuals or small-scale businesspeople to boost the industry.

It is not a charitable action but this is a part of the process of production which creates mutual benefits for both parties.

A five-star hotel, for instance, can cooperate with traditional cakemakers or local food vendors to produce a large variety of delicious and hygienic traditional food.

The hotel doesn't have to hire a professional chef with a very high salary. It should only train them about hygiene and packaging the food to meet nutritious and aesthetic standards.

If a hotel can train about 10 local food vendors, how many common people can benefit from such programs, and how much money can the hotel save?

Large-scale hotels are also able to train owners of motels and youth hostels to improve their services and facilities.

We often find local or privately run motels are managed poorly by the owners. Rooms are gloomy and dirty, the food is bad.

By improving the services of such small-scale hotels or motels, big hoteliers have made a great contribution to the industry.

It is not obligatory for hoteliers or other related tourist businesses to do these activities. But the government will include the activities as "plus-points" during certification. The government is reviewing the classification of hotels in Indonesia.

Q: Are there any crash programs to accelerate tourism?

A: There are five basic programs to be implemented in the tourism sector. The first priority is a partnership program between large-scale and small-scale tourist businesses, marketing, promotion and diversification of tourist products.

The government also plans to open representative offices in some major target countries in Japan, the United States and Europe.

Human resources development becomes very important. We have to provide international-standard training and evaluation to produce a qualified and competent workforce.

The government will also concentrate on the development of marine-based tourism. For the time being, tourist products are mostly land-based facilities.

In the future, we have to base them on marine (activities). Indonesia is geographically a maritime country with rich marine resources.

Historically, Indonesians were shaped as "land people" instead of a seafaring nation. It was part of a strategy launched by the colonial government to prevent people on the islands from communicating with each other.

Q: As the government only has a meager budget for tourism promotion, how can it be effective?

A: The government must work together with the private sector. Promotional efforts must be carried out by all elements involved in tourism.

Each element has its own job. The government's main duty is to do destination and image promotions in foreign countries, and we don't sell certain hotels like the Hilton or Hyatt.

What is most important for the government is to create an image that Indonesia is a nice and appealing place to visit.

The private sector can promote their specific products but both the government and the private sector must coordinate to effectively do promotion campaigns.

Due to a limited budget, the government can only invite a small number of foreign tour operators to visit Indonesia and to see what is really happening here. The frequent news coverage on Indonesia by foreign media is sometimes exaggerated.

Indonesia is a large country. Strife-torn areas are far from the capital city of Jakarta and other popular tourist destinations like Bali.

In line with the government's plan to implement regional autonomy in every sector, including tourism, provincial and regional administrations have the right to promote their respective tourist attractions using regional budgets.

Q: What kind of tourism is in the frame of regional autonomy?

A: Basically, the implementation of regional autonomy is a manifestation of democracy in which people in every respective area have the right to express their aspirations and to determine their own lives.

The central government will hand over its authority to regional and provincial administrations including the issuance of licenses for the operation of tourist businesses, technical and consultation guidance, monitoring and enforcement of laws.

The division of revenue between the central and regional governments will be regulated by law.

The law also mentions that natural tourist attractions on land, sea and in other places will belong to the regional authority. The development of tourist attractions will be managed by both provincial and regional administrations.

This also includes promotional activities. Each regency is now able to determine its major tourist attractions and to decide its markets.

Physically, according to the law, all tourist attractions are controlled by the regional administration. A tourist resort, which is located in more than one regency, will be controlled by a provincial government.

Q: Are local governments ready to receive this huge responsibility and authority?

A: Everyone always asks this question. In my opinion, we can no longer delay the transfer of authority. We used to postpone autonomy because we were afraid that regional governments and related agencies were not ready. If we keep on asking ourselves whether we are ready or not, the answer will be no.

It is true that some of my colleagues in regional areas are not well-prepared. Our main priority in 2001 is to upgrade human resources at the regional level. But because of a lack of funds, we will first focus on provinces which have a robust tourism.

We also have to precisely identify the possible problems that might appear during the implementation of regional autonomy.

Q: How do you see the outlook for tourism in 2001?

A: I really hope we can gradually solve our national problems -- economic, social and political, as well as the security issue.

We cannot attract visitors if the condition in our country is still in chaos. All parties are required to show their strong commitment to create a safe and attractive Indonesia.