Mon, 07 Feb 2011

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The number of foreign tourists visiting Indonesia last year surpassed the government-set target of 7 million, with their spending estimated at US$7.6 billion, up 20.63 percent from a year earlier.

More than 7.002 million foreign tourists visited the archipelagic country of more than 17,000 islands last year, a 10.74 percent increase compared to 6.32 million the year before.

"The conducive climate throughout 2010 helped increase the number of tourist arrivals particularly through Bali, Jakarta and Batam," Chief of the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) Rusman Heriawan said on Tuesday.

The number of tourist arrivals via Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali reached 2.54 million, Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta 1.82 million and Hang Nadim Airport in Batam 1.007 million last year.

What is encouraging is that the number of tourist arrivals from a number of Middle Eastern countries grew significantly last year.

The Center for Data Processing and Network System at the Culture and Tourism Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday Australian tourists last year recorded the highest growth of 35.65 percent to 730,941 from 538,849 the year before, with Saudi Arabia trailing behind with 33.33 percent to 68,878, United Arab Emirates 30.48 percent to 4,906, Hong Kong 26.11 percent to 59,279, and South Korea 17.93 percent to 281,785.

In December 2010 alone, the number of Saudi tourists visiting Indonesia grew significantly by 81.09 percent, United Arab Emirates 70.42 percent, Hong Kong 49.73 percent, Bahrain 43.48 percent, and Russia 24.13 percent from the same period a year earlier, the center said.

The high growth of tourist arrivals in December 2010 had a significant impact on the attainment of the government-set target of 7 million tourist arrivals for last year, the center said. A total of 644,221 foreign tourists visited the country in December 2010, an increase of 3.01 percent from 625,419 in the same period the year before.

The Culture and Tourism Ministry is forecasting the number of foreign tourist arrivals to increase to 7.7 million this year.

Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik said late last year the world`s improving perception of Indonesia is one of the reasons for the ministry to raise the target of tourist arrivals for this year to 7.7 million.

"The aura in 2011 is very positive. We have set an optimistic target of 7.7 million and a pessimistic target of 7.3 million as the culture and tourism minister`s performance contract with the Indonesian president," he said at a year-end press conference here on December 30 last year.

"The number of tourist arrivals from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, China and Japan (known as the five biggest sources of foreign tourists) and Europe have all increased. The number of tourists from France and Germany also increased due to the world`s improving perception of Indonesia," he said.

David Brett, Asia Pacific president of travel technology company Amadeus IT Group 2 was quoted by Jakarta Globe as saying foreign tourists had gained a better understanding of Indonesia, and were less concerned about security issues than in the past.

"Now they are not as scared when they watch TV as they used to be," Brett said. "The Asia-Pacific region has shown itself to be resilient during the crisis. Tourism will drop when there is a problem but it will bounce back quickly."

Brett said Indonesia will join Australia, Malaysia and India as the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the region.

To boost tourism, the government has announced a number of measures, including creation of community-based programs to improve the quality of travel destinations, certification of tourism-related employees and increased government lending for tourism projects.

Even the Culture and Tourism Ministry also has changed the country`s tourism slogan from "Visit Indonesia" into "Wonderful Indonesia" this year to attract more foreign tourists.

"Starting January 2011 we use the new slogan of "Wonderful Indonesia". Yesterday I received responses from my friends abroad that the slogan of "Wonderful Indonesia" is good. This is because Indonesia has wonderful nature, wonderful culture, wonderful community and wonderful food so it is quite proper to say Indonesia is wonderful," the minister said early this year.

However, critics say the minister`s target of luring 7.7 million foreign tourists for 2011 is "no big deal". "The culture and tourism ministry reached last year`s target of 7 million foreign tourists, so I think the target for this year of 7.7 million is not a big deal," Diyah Mulahela, director of the Institute for Development of Tourism Information, said early last month.

Diyak said the target is very small compared to the number of foreign tourists coming to neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.

"Malaysia welcomed about 23 million tourists in 2010, while Indonesia only aims for seven million plus visitors in 2011. So it will be quite easy for the minister although he still has to make some efforts," she said.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries combined plan to attract a total of at least l60 million tourists in 2011, she said. But by far the Largest portion of that number would visit Malaysia and Singapore.

Diyak said the culture and tourism Ministry needed to work hard to devise a strategy to attract foreign tourists in a number exceeding the official target.

The responsibility for attracting a maximum number of foreign tourists mainly rested on the shoulders of the culture and tourism ministry,provincial and district administration as well as the local tourism industry. They all needed to work synergistically to improve the services for tourists visiting Indonesia, she said.(*)