“TOURISM IN INDONESIA SHOULD NOT DEPEND ONLY OF BUDGET ALLOCATIONS FROM THE PARLIAMENT”
Pontjo Sutowo is one of Indonesia’s veterans in tourism. He was for many years the Chairman of the Indonesia Tourism Promotion Board and is running a hotel group and a real estate company which comprises the Sultan Hotel in Jakarta and the Jakarta Convention Center in Senayan – among others. For ASEAN.travel, he tells all about what he believes are Indonesia tourism’s assets and… weaknesses.
Are you satisfied to see again TIME Pasar Wisata taking place in Jakarta?
Jakarta has always been an important destination and I can say that our capital is today more attractive than ever for travellers. It is a dynamic city, the centre of Indonesia’s politics, a centre for culture, shopping, entertainment. Anyone who was in Jakarta for the last TIME Pasar Wisata eleven years ago would notice the difference. Yes, Jakarta has a lot to offer these days.
Do you think that TIME still is the right opportunity to learn about tourism in Indonesia?
TIME Pasar Wisata is an important tool as it gives opportunity for the tourism trade to meet and see our industry and look at all the assets that Indonesia tourism has. And when I look at Indonesia, I can only say that we offer to any traveller what he dreams of: beautiful beaches, pristine waters for diving, impressive mountains and landscapes, a maze of different cultures, friendly people, a nice gastronomy. We should be a leading tourism destination in Southeast Asia but… I feel we have been stagnating over the last 25 years.
Why do you say so?
Well, of course we receive now some 250 million domestic travellers. However reference is always taken by the number of foreign travellers. And then, while we were more or less on pair with Thailand 30 years ago, Thailand now receives almost three times more international tourists than us. We then have to ask ourselves the question: while domestic tourism grew on an annual basis by 19% on average, why do foreign inbound markets did not follow the same trend?
So, what are your answer(s)?
I think this has nothing to do with the potential but to do with the way we look -and I would say particularly politicians- look at tourism. We first have a culture of state subsidies. The Ministry of Tourism is always linking its promotional efforts to the budget that the Parliament will approve. When we in fact need the private sector to take over by investing massively in upgrading the infrastructure and the product. Then it would be easier to promote the country abroad. For example, there is just a limited network of marinas for private boats across the archipelago, while we still claim to promote maritime tourism. Because we do not have the infrastructure -as it is mostly decided by national or regional governments- we are losing a precious opportunity although we have the biggest archipelago in the world! But it is more than just putting money…
What do you see as further handicaps to turn Indonesia as a full-fledged tourism destination?
Money seeking turns tourism into an activity of “beggars” in the eye of many politicians, instead of them looking at all the assets that tourism can bring. How then can you -as a politician- promote an activity that you consider yourself as ancillary? We need to bring back people’s interest. And I mean also the public. We MUST educate the Indonesian public to the benefits and assets of developing tourism but also the way to offer it to travellers. That ranges from foreign language skills to cleanliness for example. A perfect example of tourism awareness is Bali versus Lombok. While Bali is sold out most of the time, Lombok struggles more to attract all year-round foreign travellers. Just because local people still do not see the benefit they could have from tourism. And finally there is a need to renew the image, to think beyond the usual promotional tools. Probably this is a question of generations.
What would then be your advice to the public to change their approach towards tourism?
We must tell everyone that travelling today is a NEED. Look at the fact. Thanks to fast-developing communication technologies,it is so easy now to meet people without travelling. But this is the contrary that we see these days. People wants to experience the life of other people they need to see the others. It has something to do with human nature. If you understand this philosophy, then you understand also the essence of tourism. We have today not only to conciliate environment and safety issues with tourism development but also bring back this human dimension.