Although it is now temporarily in a state of emergency with the looming eruption of Mount Agung volcano, located in the eastern part of the resort island, statistics released last week show that Bali has been a stellar performer for the country's tourism sector.
Nearly four million tourists visited the island in the first eight months of this year - almost half of the 9.25 million arrivals seen country-wide over the same period, according to the Central Statistics Agency.
That is a 25 per cent increase in arrivals over last year, when tourism contributed 11 per cent, or 172 trillion rupiah (S$17 billion), to Indonesia's gross domestic product.
The 11.5 million arrivals last year also generated tourism-related jobs for almost 12 million Indonesians.
So what would happen if Indonesia had more than one Bali? Enter President Joko Widodo's “10 New Balis” growth strategy - a plan that aims to replicate the economic effects of tourism in Bali nationally.
“You all know Bali, our famous island paradise? With improved infrastructure, we will launch a programme called 10 New Balis,” the president, popularly known as Jokowi, told businessmen during a visit to Hong Kong in May. He has also set a target of welcoming 20 million foreign tourists by 2019, and he has been doing his part by sharing his plan of creating more Balis with counterparts such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders' Retreat, held on Sept 7.
Analysts have said that the ambitious plan to grow the tourism sector complements the president's broader strategy for more infrastructure development, particularly to enhance connectivity.
The Ministry of Tourism has listed the destinations earmarked under the 10 New Balis plan for further development, which includes the upgrading of airports and construction of new amenities:
lLake Toba, North Sumatra
lTanjung Lesung, Banten
lKepulauan Seribu, Jakarta
lTanjung Kelayang Beach,
lBorobudur Temple, Central Java
lMount Bromo, East Java
lMandalika, West Nusa Tenggara
lLabuan Bajo, East Nusa
lWakatobi, South Sulawesi
lMorotai Island, North Maluku
According to the ministry, the locations were selected based on three As: They are already an attraction in their own right, and they would benefit from better access and more amenities.
“The strategy is to accelerate development,” Deputy Tourism Minister Dadang Rizki Ratman told The Straits Times last month.
“For a start, we looked at the ones with high potential and that are already iconic, but that have relatively low visitor numbers, and we found they all had the same problem with access and infrastructure.”
One destination that is popular with both local and foreign tourists but suffers from a lack of more direct access is Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra.
International visitors to the volcanic lake typically fly to Medan, and travel hours by road before arriving at the location.
Joko is set to officiate at the upgrading of Silangit Airport, which is less than an hour away from Lake Toba, to an international airport later this month.
With the upgrade, the journey for travellers from Singapore, for instance, will be much shorter.
“Now, we have international direct flights to Silangit Airport. Next is Tanjung Kelayang later this year, and we are also designing a new airport in Kulon Progo that would serve international visitors to Borobudur,” said Dadang.
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said last month that Garuda Indonesia would fly into Silangit Airport from Singapore on Oct 28 - marking the first international flight to land there after its runway was extended for wide-body aircraft.
Singapore is Indonesia's largest source of tourists, with 1.5 million visitors arriving from the city-state, but Indonesia also aims to attract more travellers from China, as well as Australia and India.
The tourism ministry said that additional flights, particularly by low-cost carriers, to and from those countries, which started |earlier this year, would help increase tourist numbers.
It hopes to see 15 million tourist arrivals by the end of this year, so that the sector can contribute 13 per cent to growth.
To ensure that infrastructure developments are carried out efficiently, the ministry has streamlined the project approval process, which previously required collaborations with various local authorities.
“For example, Lake Toba lies in seven regencies across North Sumatra province,” said Mr Dadang. “How can we build in the Lake Toba area if the seven regencies have different views and plans?”
He said special economic zones had been carved out as well in areas where infrastructure developments are needed to draw foreign investors from, say, Singapore.
However, all 10 destinations will have their own unique offerings, from yachting and diving in places such as Labuan Bajo to cultural experiences at world-renowned heritage sites such as Borobudur.
Further, special zones will be created for meetings, incentives, conferences and events, or |Mice activities, as well as sports tourism.
Some also highlighted security concerns, from mass street protests that have the potential to turn violent to terrorist attacks by Islamic militants in the country.
Researcher Syarif Hidayatullah from think-tank Wiratama Institute said that the government is heading in the right direction in terms of its focus on improving infrastructure to boost tourism.
Published : October 10, 2017
By : THE STRAITS TIMES ASIA NEWS NETWORK BALI