Tue, 11 Jun 2002

Retreat islands in Singapore's backyard

Fadli Contributor Batam

The hotel business, including the resort hotels on Batam and the nearby island of Bintan, has been booming in the past three years despite a setback in the hotel industry in the other parts of the country.

While many hotels are struggling to survive amid the downfall in the number of foreign tourists, the hotel industry on the two islands is doing quite well.

Batam, according to the local tourism office, has 43 star- rated hotels to date, including three resort hotels, while Bintan, the newly developed tourist resort nearby, has seven modern resort hotels.

The Sept. 11 terrorist against the United States caused a growing concern over the safety of traveling, dealing a major blow to most Indonesian tourist destinations.

But the two islands, which are only about a 45-minute trip by ferry from Singapore, are almost immune to such security fears as evidenced by the continued increase in the number of tourists. For Singaporeans and other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the two islands have become popular retreat destinations.

Although many executives of the local tourism-related companies complain that the two islands still lack promotion, the number of foreign tourists continues to increase from year to year.

Last year, the number of foreign tourist arrivals reached 1.2 million, more than 20 percent of the total foreign tourist arrivals to Indonesia -- 5.15 million -- in the same year. Of the 1.2 million foreign tourists visiting Batam and Bintan, 60 percent came from Singapore.

There are now three resort hotels on Batam, the country's largest industrial bonded zone. The resort hotels, Batam View Beach Resort, Turi Beach Resort and Pura Jaya, have specialized their operations to cater to tourists.

Besides offering rooms and services of international standards, they also have recreation facilities such as jet skiing, wind surfing, water skiing, canoeing and fishing readily available.

"Batam View Beach also provides a sightseeing tour that we call the Kampong Tour. This facility is provided to guests who want to take a look at traditional villages near the island's coastal areas," the resort hotel's general manager Svein Moldskred told The Jakarta Post.

According to him such a tour package is quite popular among foreign tourists from Singapore, Korea, Japan and the United States.

The resort hotels in Batam offer room rates of between Rp 400,000 (about US$45) to Rp 1 million per night for foreign tourists. Indonesian visitors usually receive a special room rate.

The Chairman of the Batam Authority, Ismeth Abdullah, said that although Batam focuses on the development of industrial facilities, the tourism industry will be further promoted to take advantage of the growing tourist arrivals from neighboring Singapore.

Ismeth said that Batam has many attractive locations to visit such as the nearby Vietnamese refugee camp, the Buddhist temple Maha Viara Duta Maitreya, and a number of beautiful isles surrounding Batam and Bintan islands.

"The development of new tourism facilities or renovation of the existing ones is one of our important programs," Ismeth said.

Unlike Batam, Bintan island has been solely developed into a retreat destination. Developed as tourist destination by the Indonesian government in the early 1990s in cooperation with the Singaporean government, the island has become an important tourist resort for Asian tourists.

Seven resort hotels with international standards have been built in Lagoi, a tourist complex covering 23,000 hectares in the coastal area of the island. They include Banyan Tree, Angsana, Nirwana Garden, Club Med, Bintan Lagun, Sedona and Mayang Sari,

The relatively new tourist destination, which is located away from local communities, is quite suitable for holiday makers. But executives of the hotels in the area said that the place had not yet been as popular as other tourist destinations in the country despite the high quality of services and facilities offered by the hotels.

"Although we have facilities with international standards, the business is not as good as expected," Trizno Tarmoezi, the director of human resources and corporate affairs of Banyan Tree, told The Post.

With the beauty of the natural forests and beaches surrounding it, the resort should have attracted more tourists, he said. "The resort is not only beautiful but is also quite safe. Unfortunately, due to the lack of promotion, not many people know the place," he added.

Trizno said that most of tourists visiting the island were Singaporeans who mostly came to the resort on weekends. "Only a few Indonesians visit the area," he added.

The hotels, which offer room rates of between $200 to $300 per night, also provide a special tour packages which include trips to small isles nearby or to Tanjung Pinang town, about 70 kilometers away.

"The resort is especially good due to its safety and comfortable accommodation facilities," he said. "In Bali tourists are often disturbed with the presence of aggressive street traders, but here in Bintan no one will disturb you," he added.

Like his colleagues in Batam, Trizno also complained that Bintan island still lacked promotion. Most of the sales promotion is done individually by the existing hotels and mostly through the internet.

Robert Liar Lidrioux, the chairman of the tourism office of the Riau islands regency, said that the Lagoi tourist complex had not been fully developed.

"Only 10 percent of the 23,000 hectares appropriated for the tourist facilities have been used.

The regency, which covers dozens of islands in Riau province including Bintan, relies on the Lagoi tourist resort for its future.

At present, the tourist facilities in Bintan contributes between Rp 4 billion and Rp 5 billion to the regency's total revenue.