Alluring Indonesia: How 17,000 islands nation earns trillions from tourism


A panoramic landscape of Labuan Bajo Flores, Indonesia. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

It is a land of many wonders, with a rich cultural tapestry, diverse landscapes, and unique features. Known as the largest archipelagic nation in the world, Indonesia boasts over 17,000 islands, 300 different ethnicities and 700 languages.

From the Borobudur Temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, to having the highest number of active volcanoes anywhere on earth (130), unique wildlife in the Borneo and Sumatra rainforests, as well as the Komodo island, to the most diverse marine life on earth found in Raja Ampat; the list of attractions is long, and the Indonesia government is fully capitalising on this.

In a recent trip to Jakarta, the country’s capital located on the island of Java, one of the five main Islands, the Business Daily had a chat with Deputy Minister for Marketing in the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Ms (Bu) Ni Made Ayu Marthini.

She kicked off our conversation with a hearty welcome to a cup of coffee, and the statistics mentioned above. But first, a few more figures.

The global tourism market is booming, valued at $11.1 trillion and projected to reach $17 trillion by 2030, at an annual compounded growth rate of 5.4 percent. The biggest share (40 per cent) of this is taken by the Asia Pacific region, which Indonesia is part of, and is projected to be the fastest growing region as well.

In Indonesia, the growth rate is higher at an estimated 8.3 percent, and $7.5 billion (Sh1.2 trillion) this year. This is after recording the lowest figures ever at $3 billion in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The question then is; what is contributing to such rapid growth in this sector, which accounts for 10 percent of all employment in the country?

“The answer is simple; we are bullish about our agenda,” Bu Made says.

“This year, we set a target for ourselves to reach seven million tourists by the third quarter, and by September, we had hit and surpassed our mark with 8.5 million tourists. Our main focus to achieve this goal has been creation of new travel destinations. This also helps increase the length of stay of visitors who come to our country, by offering a more diverse experience.”

Bu Made says traditionally, the focus of most tourists has been Bali, the most famous travel destination in the region. “However, we realised the need to make our tourism more sustainable due to the high number of visitors frequenting Bali. We launched several programmes towards this, alongside development of infrastructure such as two new airports in Sumatra.”

Tourism villages

One of the programmes the ministry has been running is “tourism villages”, which is hinged on the idea of ‘back to basics living’.

In this endeavour, Bu Made says tourists are integrated and live with villagers during their stay, as opposed to living in resorts. This not only gives visitors a chance to experience the culture and day-to-day living of the people, but also plays a role in bringing ordinary citizens into the fold in the tourism industry.”

“Out of 78,000 villages, we have managed to integrate and develop 7,500 villages. Besides sightseeing, visitors also get to experience, for instance, grazing of cows or walk through rice fields. To encourage cooperation by citizens, we have awards for cleanliness and connectivity, which makes them proud and excited of the work they do.”

When it comes to promoting local tourism, Bu Made says they lean on social media.

“This social integration is promoted through a local hashtag (#InIndonesiaOnly), as social media is a powerful marketing tool. We also work with travel agencies and hold festivals in various cities, spearheaded by young people.”

When it comes to challenges, she says there are a few, such as ensuring tourists’ safety, and incidences such as the Bali bombings a little over two decades ago.

“We have also had a challenge with human resource, for instance, due to language barrier as Indonesia is not an English-speaking state. To address this, the government has so far opened six hospitality schools, to ensure we get standardised services such as translators.

We have also faced connectivity issues such as overbooking of flights due to high demand, but I suppose that is a good problem to have.”
Bu Made also adds that they have been training people to market their country through content creation, and by making them understand that “just because they see it every day, it does not mean it is not special.”

Opportunities for Kenya

As she receives a packet of Kenyan tea leaves, coffee and macadamia from her colleagues working in the Indonesian embassy in Nairobi, she adds; “Our countries might be different in certain aspects, but there is an opportunity to learn from each other. For instance, you can have partnerships between #MagicalKenya and various companies that make export goods, such as the world renowned Kenyan coffee and tea, and have their logo on this products. Kenya can also capitalise on their huge young population who are very active online to market their country, through government-led initiatives.”

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.