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A 'Sacred' Figure: 7 Million Foreign Tourists?

Editorial: Bali Post Editorial Questions Efficacy and Professionalism of Indonesian Tourism Promotion.

Bali News:
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Pande Putu Setiawan S.T, M.M. an alumnus of Yogyakarta's Gadja Mada University post-graduate program and the University of Victoria (Canada) contributed an editorial for the December 18, 2008 edition of the Bali Post. Our free translation of that provocative editorial follows:

This year Indonesia's tourism industry can take pride in its achievements. A new record will be set in 2008 with some 7 million foreign tourists visiting Indonesia. This meshes with Bali where a record 1.9 million foreign tourists will be recorded. This compares most favorably with the 5.5 million foreign tourists who came to Indonesia in 2007 and the 1.5 million who visited Bali in that same year.

What's interesting is that the achievement of 7 million foreign tourists certainly represents a phenomenal performance for Indonesia. However, closer examination is warranted, including viewing arrivals from several countries in Southeast Asia to Bali and Indonesia and the tourism performance of those countries. For example, Malaysia has attracted 18 million visitors spending US$36 billion; Thailand has netted 15 million foreign tourists; and Singapore 10 million. This does not include the impressive performance of the tourism industries in China, India or Hong Kong. Singapore is able to attract more Indonesian tourists than the total foreign tourists that visit Bali.

Through comparing tourism arrivals at a the aforementioned Southeast Asian countries, we can see that Singapore, a small country the size of Bali, is able to surpass Indonesian tourism by attracting 10 million visitors in a single year. Meanwhile, Indonesia, which is a vastly larger country with thousands of natural attractions and thousands of islands can only attract between 5-7 million foreign tourists. This is also the case with Bali, a destination that has won the label as "the best island in the world" for eight times as well as other honors, where we should actually be able to attract more tourists than we are at presently achieving.

We can derive many important lessons from our neighboring countries - such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore - who have only recently discovered their tourism potential. These countries are very serious about tourism and have clearer visions, stronger marketing, behave more strategically, and are bolder in their execution than their near neighbor Indonesia. In fact, when seen from the standpoint of their tourism products and the attractions they offer, these countries have no significant advantage over Indonesia.

Singapore is active in its promotion of special events in the electronic and print media to markets not dissimilar to those sought by Indonesia. Every activity is expertly packaged, such as their great sale as well as cultural and religious celebrations.

Malaysia is even more successful with its program “Malaysia, Truly Asia” which has managed to launch new tourism destinations, such as the resort island of Langkawi and the FI circuit of Sepang. In fact, Malaysia has sought to strengthen its “truly Asia” positioning by utilizing the icons of neighboring countries; a step that caused Indonesia to protest Malaysia's use of reog, batik, angklung and songs – all considered to belong to the endemic culture of Indonesia. Such tactics show that while Malaysia may be lacking domestic destinations capable of attracting tourists, such as the beaches of Bali and the exotic cultures of Indonesia's other islands, their strategic promotional plan in combination with a very serious intent to build a national tourism industry, have allowed Malaysia to become the Southeast Asian destination capable of attracting the largest number of foreign tourists.

Then, lastly, we have Indonesia which has apparently been left far behind in the management of its tourism industry, marketing strategies, product packaging and service provided to visitors. It is as though we have been assisted by the global phenomenon of tourism growth and the difficulties of other destinations, such as Thailand, who have encountered internal political problems. How goes Bali? If we are truthful, we have done little of significance to develop our tourism fortunes.

Little Effect or Influence

Examining closer what has been achieved by Bali tourism, the various programs have had little significant impact. Casting our eyes back to the recent past, "Bali for the world, Bali is my life" and the latest branding of "Shanti Shanti Shanti" have all failed to create any tangible results. It is rare to have a hotel or other tourism industry component that displays the Shanti Shanti Shanti branding, despite Bali having launched this island branding program more than one year ago. Such is also the case at Bali's airport and tourism destinations within the island where the latest branding has become so much jargon. Similarly, few members of the general public – including both domestic and international tourists - have any appreciation or understanding of the Shanti Shanti Shanti branding.

Some have complained that the central government, in the guise of the Department of Culture and Tourism, has failed to support programs for Bali branding. However, the fact that the central government has also failed to support other successful branding programs, such as "Enjoy Jakarta", deny Bali the use of that excuse.

With this understanding, the government of Bali must create a tourism promotion program which stands out for its creativity and effectiveness. More appropriate media placement and promotional material are needed. Don't we have sufficient unique materials that can be used in the execution of promotional activities? Certainly we must have learned from past mistakes where every project lasts for but a moment and absorbs substantial amounts of money. We have yet to learn from our neighbors how to truly promote tourism in a proper way.

The question has become: How long will we continue to be left behind? Outside of facts beyond our control, “the best island in the world” should be able to demonstrate the required synergy that matches that honorific – an island presenting “the best” for its visitors and "the best" for its own people.

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