Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Yogyakarta tries to branch out in tourism

by Asip A. Hasani

YOGYAKARTA (JP): There is no question that Yogyakarta has almost everything to develop its tourism industry. And there are those who contend that the city has more to offer than even the famed tourist destination of Bali.

The big difference is that Bali is a separate island, far removed from the trouble and strife which have beset Java in recent years. And it has an airport capable of receiving direct international flights from abroad.

Instead of cleaning up with profits, Yogyakarta's hotels are waging a rate war as a result of a drastic decline in the number of tourists.

Only 24.8 percent of the city's 9,500 hotel rooms were occupied in 1998, and 30.4 percent in 1999; the hotel "break-even point" is normally at the level of at least 40 percent of room occupancy.

The multidimensional crisis, which led to riots in many places, particularly in Java, in the wake of the reform movement in 1998, is undeniably the main reason even though Yogyakarta was relatively calm. The number of foreign tourists visiting Yogyakarta dropped from 351,542 tourists in 1996 to 277,847 in 1997, 78,833 in 1998, and 73,361 tourists in 1999.

The number of domestic tourists who visited Yogyakarta also declined, from more than 901,575 in 1996 to 440,989 tourists in 1999.

"The condition would not be as bad as this if our tourism foundation was already strong and under the conditions of a supportive bureaucracy," the chief of Yogyakarta's branch of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association, Stef. B. Indarto, told The Jakarta Post recently.

"Riots don't happen in peaceful Yogyakarta, therefore we can't blame the unrest for the decline in tourist visits here."

Tourism has been a significant source of local government income for years. In 1996, it contributed about Rp 32.8 billion, or more than a half of Yogyakarta's annual revenue of about Rp 50 billion. The amount plummeted to Rp 13.1 billion in 1998.

Yogyakarta enjoyed its tourism heyday in the 1980s when hotel occupancy rates reached an average of 70 percent a year. This soon led to the rapid growth of hotels and other tourism investment.

There were 400 hotels in 1999, including four five-star hotels with a total capacity of 9,500 rooms, and 99 travel bureaus and agencies.

Investors see a promising future in the tourism industry, with the many marketable tourist attractions.

Besides the magnificent Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the Hindu temple of Prambanan, Yogyakarta enjoys its own special heritage, including its role as the center of Javanese culture with the kraton (palace) as the symbol. There are also plenty of places for adventure tourism in the area.

There are a total of 86 tourism attractions, which consist of 46 heritage sites, 30 nature sites, four agrotourism areas and six adventure tourism places.

International airport

The director of the government-backed Yogyakarta Tourism Development Board (BPIPY), Wiendu Nuryanti, said the social and political instability was not the only factor in the decline in the number of tourist arrivals.

She told the Post that secondary factors included low accessibility to the city and the stagnant tourist products.

Before the crisis hit the country in late 1997, the number of tourists visiting Yogyakarta was stagnant from 1993 to 1996.

"The stagnancy wouldn't have occurred if Yogyakarta was more easily accessed by tourists. The only solution to this problem is an international airport," she said.

She said the government should certify Yogyakarta's Adi Sutjipto Airport as an international airport, while the local administration, private sector and the local community must work together to produce better tourism attractions.

Adi Sutjipto officially belongs to the Yogyakarta Air Force Military Academy (AAU); state-owned PT Angkasa Pura operates commercial flights in the airport under an agreement with the Air Force.

However, only smaller commercial aircraft, such as the DC 9, can use the airport's runway.

Bureaucracy has been a problem in upgrading the airport.

"For dozens of years we have introduced the proposal and submitted it to all related-parties, but up until now the status has yet to be achieved. It's almost a fantasy to have our own international airport," she said.

"Don't they, the central government, see the promise for our tourism industry if we have our own international airport?"

However, the Air Force has reportedly been unreceptive to the idea, with a source saying it threatened to close the airport if the tourism community insisted on the demand.

"No matter how intensive our tourism promotion abroad is, tourist visits will not record a significant increase above the 351,542 tourists a year which we reached in 1996," Wiendu said.

"When I promoted Yogyakarta before Singaporean travel bureaus and agencies sometime ago, they simply asked if the Silk Air aircraft could directly land at Adi Sutjipto or not. And if it was possible, they said they would bring tourists twice a week to Yogyakarta."

Bad management

From the early 1990s to 1996, the average length of stay for tourists in Yogyakarta never exceeded 2.1 day, attesting to stagnancy in the city.

Wiendu estimated that about 15 percent of the total number of tourists visiting Yogyakarta did not spend a night in the city after arriving in the morning.

"Most of them stay in Bali. They arrive in Yogyakarta in the morning and leave for their country or return to Bali in the evening only after visiting Borobudur," she said.

Tourists' average daily spending is only between $100 to $110, she added.

Both Wiendu and Indarto recommended progressive exploration of tourism products.

"Unfortunately, we don't manage our assets despite their undoubted value," Wiendu said.

She criticized state-owned company PT Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko Tourism Park, the management of most of cultural heritage sites in Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces, for bad and ineffective managerial conduct of tourism sites, particularly Borobudur temple, which has been overrun by vendors.

"The noisy vendors are very disturbing to visitors," she said, adding that there were currently more than 2,000 peddlers compared to 500 peddlers before the crisis.

Bad management of Borobudur temple is a serious and frustrating problem to Yogyakarta tourism as the city has depended for years on the temple's reputation to attract tourists.

"For the sake of tourists' comfort in admiring the temple, the company should free the Borobudur area from street vendors and build a market for the vendors through which Borobudur visitors will exit," she said.

Indarto said tourism, especially in Yogyakarta, needed more professionals employed by the government as decision-makers. "In contrast, the post of head of the local tourism office has never been occupied by those professionals."

Yogyakarta does have a supportive champion of local tourism, Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, the hereditary leader of the area.

Indarto said that Hamengkubuwono's support could lead to the upgrading of the local airport. "And we hope that under the Sultan's supervision, the local administration will become more responsive to whatever is required to develop the tourist industry."

The local tourism office is targetting annual income of between Rp 42.13 billion and Rp 69 billion from tourism in the years to 2004.

"We will only be able to reach those goals on the condition that political stability and security are restored," acknowledged the head of the provincial tourism office, Sugeng.