North Sumatra: Time To Rethink Its Communication

Mahmoon Sultan Palace, Medan

North Sumatra province in Indonesia has all the elements to turn into a major tourism destination with magnificent landscapes, lively culture and heritage and easy access thanks to Medan brand new airport. However, North Sumatra still remains today “terra incognita” for most travellers…

Over the last five years, Medan enjoyed a complete renaissance. Old buildings from the Dutch colonial times are carefully being restored, some being turned into museums or hotels; glitzy shopping malls are spreading all across the 2.2 million inhabitants metropolis; and new brand hotels are coming in town. After Marriott, Equatorial or Aston, Hilton is now moving into the city with a Garden Inn due to open in 2016.

Some three hours away from Medan, Lake Toba is one of Indonesia’s most iconic tourism destinations. With a length of 100 km and a width of 30 km, the lake is the largest in Indonesia and the largest volcanic lake in the world. It is home to pristine nature and to Batak ethnic with a rich cultural heritage, especially in the architecture of houses.

North Sumatra is also a famous area for agriculture with tea, coffee and tobacco plantation which in the past made the wealth of the region. Cinnamon, cloves, avocados and flowers are part of North Sumatra agro-tourism activities today.

In 2013, the province opened Indonesia first greenfield airport for many decades. Kuala Namu International is one of the busiest airports in the country with over nine million passengers a year. It has non-stop international connections to Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

North Sumatra has then all the ingredients to make it a successful destination. Why does it fail so far to bring more visitors? “We must acknowledge that we have insufficient marketing and promotion funds”, says Muchlis, Head of North Sumatra regional Office for Culture and Tourism (Dinas Budaya dan Pariwisata Sumatra Utara).

” Little promotion has been done outside our domestic market and we need to think more of being present in our neighbouring markets such as Malaysia or Thailand. We have to highlight that we can be an excellent destination for MICE for example thanks to first class hotels, convention and shopping facilities”, he explains.

Mahmoon Sultan Palace, MedanMahmoon Sultan Palace, Medan

From 2010 to 2014, total foreign arrivals progressed by over 41%, reaching an all-time high of 271,000 foreign visitors last year. From January to August 2015, total arrivals reached 154,000, a slight decline over the same period of 2014.

How could North Sumatra capitalize with its little resources? Over the last couple of years, the province has made considerable efforts to clean public areas, improve water and electricity supply while safety has been boosted in Medan with police forces being present in many popular visitors’ areas.

“We now work to improve infrastructure, especially with the construction of the Medan-Lake Toba tollway which is built as an extension of the Medan-Kuala Namu airport road. We are confident that construction will be speed up as the government designated recently Lake Toba as a priority tourism object for development”, adds Muchlis.

The tollway is only 18 km long. However 43 km are planned to be completed until 2017 with some 27.2 km now cleared for construction. Total investment for the road -which is part of the ambitious Trans-Sumatra Highway- requests an investment of US$260 million.

The development of these priority tourism destinations are directly under the supervision of Indonesia President. It might then give the necessary sparkle to market better Lake Toba to a large international public. Let’s look at the first results in a year time…