You are here

Bali leads Indonesia promotion to lure tourists with free visas

Melia Benoa All-Inclusive Resort Beach Melia Benoa All-Inclusive Resort Beach & Garden in Bali.

[JAKARTA] Indonesia will focus on Bali and islands near Singapore rather than developing more remote spots in the world's largest archipelago, as it seeks to double tourist numbers by 2020.

The government's marketing budget has been increased fourfold to 1 trillion rupiah (S$100 million) this year, a sign of President Joko Widodo's commitment to the industry, Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said in an interview on Tuesday. That money will be spent promoting Bali, Jakarta and the islands of Batam and Bintan close to Singapore, which generate about 90 per cent of the country's revenue from international tourists, he said.

"We cannot promote every destination in Indonesia as it's very expensive," Mr Yahya said in Jakarta. "Our strategy is that tourism development follows infrastructure development."

An archipelago of 17,000 islands that would stretch from Alaska to New York, Indonesia attracted less than half the international tourists than its smaller neighbors Malaysia and Thailand did last year. As growth in Southeast Asia's largest economy slows to the weakest in more than five years and the government lags its revenue targets, the president has pledged to double arrivals in his five-year term.

Indonesia this month granted visa-free entrance to citizens of 30 countries including the US, China and Germany.

On Bali, known for its surf, Hindu culture and rice paddy landscapes, the aim is to spread tourism development more widely as it's concentrated in the south near the main city Denpasar, said Mr Yahya. The government is pushing ahead with plans to build a two-runway international airport at Singaraja in northern Bali and a toll road from Denpasar to Gilimanuk in the west of the island, he said.

Indonesia attracted 9.4 million international tourists last year, compared with Thailand's 24.8 million and Malaysia's 27.4 million, government data show. These countries made tourism a leading industry years ago, Mr Yahya said. "In Indonesia this has just been decided now," he said.

The rupiah, which has fallen 29 per cent against the dollar over the last three years, should make Indonesia a more attractive destination. Indonesia came third out of 141 economies for price competitiveness in the World Economic Forum's Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015. Other indicators were less positive, at 101 for service infrastructure and 134th for environmental sustainability.

Mr Yahya, chief executive of PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia before being appointed tourism minister last year, said he aims to make it mandatory for developers to follow United Nations' sustainable tourism criteria when building resorts. He'll spend about half the marketing budget on digital media including TripAdvisor, Google and Facebook, to garner interest from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Japan and Australia.

Mr Yahya is also encouraging provinces to develop special zones for tourism where developers may lease plots from the government to overcome the challenges of land acquisition.