MANADO, Indonesia (eTN) – It is a hard task to promote and host an international show as a relative newcomer on the tourism scene. Mari Elka Pangestu, the recently-appointed Minister of Indonesia, Ministry of Tourism and Creative Industry, recognized that Manado – host city to the current ASEAN Travel Forum (ATF) – lacks experience. “We know that Manado had connectivity problems for flights. However, we want to balance our promotional efforts by emphasizing to the traveling public that there are many destinations worth visiting beyond Bali,” she explained during her press conference at ATF.
The Minister has a lot of ambitions. Coming from the Trade Ministry, she takes a new pro-active role by integrating in her portfolio all the creative industry. “ oth tourism and creative industry are beneficial to each other. By creative industry, we include design, architecture, arts, fashion, culinary, or IT creation. They are all components of the tourism experience and this will be our role to foster them,” she declared.
Indonesia has the ambition to pass the eight million foreign travelers mark in 2012, a reasonable target after welcoming last year 7.6 million tourists. Growth would then reach 5.3 percent in the Ministry’s most optimistic option. The Minister recognized that Europe worsening economic crisis is likely to dampen 2012 perspectives. “We still hope to record a slight growth from European markets, which remain very important for Indonesia. But we also set our sights to promoting Indonesia to emerging markets such as the Middle East, Russia, and, of course, Asia,” added Mari Elka Pangestu.
The Minister will prioritize its promotion to 14 areas under its new Marketing Destinations Organization. They are spread all across the archipelago and include well-established destinations such as Jakarta old town (previously Batavia), Borobudur and surroundings, Bali, the Toraja land (South Celebes), and Komodo, with potential areas such as Sabang (Aceh in Sumatra), Kelimutu (Flores), Mount Rinjani (Lombok), and Raja Ampat (Indonesian Papua). Two areas are also being marked for integrated resorts – one is in Western Java, across Krakatau volcano, and another one is in Southern Lombok. “These 14 areas across the country should get absolute priority for tourism development. I want to go from a ‘wish-do’ to a ‘must-do’ list in terms of infrastructure development,” highlighted the Minister.
Mari Elka Pangesta is effectively right. If Indonesia still remains behind countries such as Thailand or Malaysia when looking at total foreign arrivals, it can blame partially the lack of proper infrastructure. “Good infrastructure is crucial to the development of new destinations, as it makes them easily accessible for travelers. We [are] currently work[ing] on Bali[‘s] airport expansion, with a target to have the new terminal ready by 2013. We [are] also speed[ing] up the construction of a new road from Bali airport to Sanur to relieve traffic congestion. In Sumatra, we [are] build[ing] a new road, which will reduce traveling time from Medan to Lake Toba, as well as a brand new airport,” told the Minister.
In a way, Manado turned also into a victim of all the woes which can eventually affect Indonesia’s tourism. The city was picked up by the Indonesian government, despite the absence of international flights and very limited hotel capacities. Not only international participants had to take on average three flights to arrive in Manado, but a lot of them end up in hotels being located over an hour away from the convention center. And they had to also experience almost every day, recurrent transportation problems to commute between hotels and the convention center.
Why then such a choice? According to some Indonesian journalists, Manado was only picked up due to political reasons. Once the choice proved effective, no one seemed to have really looked at ways to solve teething problems such as communication, transportation, standards of hotels, or what could be the acceptable distance to town. The result was then a disastrous PR exercise, which might affect Manado’s image for a long time. A high price to pay for a first public appearance in the international tourism arena.