Thu, 10 Apr 2003

New visa policy damaging, says tourist industry

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The president of a prominent tourist industry association criticized the government's new policy that abolished the 60-day visa-on-arrival granted to nationals from 48 foreign countries, saying the move would hurt the already struggling industry.

"We are disappointed with the policy. I don't understand why the government is imposing it now, while we have to struggle with an already unfavorable tourism climate," Meity Robot, president of the central board of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies Association (ASITA), told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

She said that most of her colleagues in tourist industry were desperately fighting the gloomy conditions following travel advisories in the wake of the Oct. 12, 2002 Bali terror attacks, the current United States-led invasion of Iraq and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) threat.

Meity called the issuance of the policy an ill-timed decision, saying that the country was not ready to face the consequences.

"Why didn't they give us some more time to prepare for the regulation with all the immigration employees?" she said, while adding that several gateways in the country had yet to impose the policy.

Meity said that the policy would adversely affect the country's tourism industry, although the impact could only be seen at the end of the year.

She said that the ministry of tourism had invited tourist industry officials for a briefing on the policy on Thursday.

Yanti Sukamdani, president of the central board of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), also deplored the policy, but said she would comment on the issue after the meeting.

Separately, Myra P. Gunawan, deputy chairperson of the tourism and cultural development board for human resources and promotion, also said that the policy would hurt the country's tourism industry.

"But the affects won't really be felt for another six months. It will not create problems if the immigration office is ready," she said.

On March 31, President Megawati Soekarnoputri signed the decree, permitting 30-day visas-on-arrival for the nationals from 11 of the 48 countries that can receive tourist visas.

The 60-day visa-on-arrival policy, first introduced in 1983, was meant to lure more foreign tourists to the country. Under the scheme, foreign tourists do not have to pay anything or go to an embassy to get a visa.

Tourism experts have warned that the new regulation would significantly reduce the number of foreign tourists coming to the country, forcing many travel agencies to shut down and causing the country to lose a huge amount of foreign exchange revenue.