Indonesia pushes for Muslim travellers to boost sector

Indonesia has set its sights on promoting halal tourism in the country, particularly to visitors from the Middle East.

Overall, Americans remain the top spenders on travel in the Asia Pacific region, spending about US$231.6 billion last year. However, since the turn of the century Chinese and other east Asian tourists have begun arriving in increasing numbers and now Jakarta is targeting Arab Muslim visitors to boost its tourism sector further.

According to Indonesia’s ministry of tourism, approximately 10.5 million people travelled to the country in last year, generating about $12.4bn for the economy. The average visitor stayed for 8.5 days and spent $1,190.

However, the tourism sector still remains vastly underdeveloped. Currently, Indonesia’s tourism sector accounts for about 4 per cent of the total economy, according to Indonesia Investments, a unit of the Dutch private investment firm Van der Schaar Investments.

“By 2019, the Indonesian government wants to have doubled this figure to 8 per cent of GDP, an ambitious target (possibly overly ambitious) which implies that within the next four years, the number of visitors needs to double to about 20 million,” Indonesia Investments says.

The government’s target is, in fact, to double visitor figures to 20 million by 2019, creating approximately 13 million new jobs while also significantly increasing GDP, according to the tourism department.

To this end, the government has this year allocated $200 million to overall tourism promotion. The “Wonderful Indonesia” brand, as well as a range of other initiatives designed to develop the sector, has seen it increase its ranking in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum. Indonesia was ranked the 50th out of 144 countries, according to the 2015 report, up from 70th in 2013.

In addition to increasing tourist numbers from traditional markets, Indonesia has also initiated a strategy particularly targeting Muslim visitors.

This move comes on the back of the global halal tourism boom. Also called family-friendly tourism, halal tourism is aimed at creating conditions conducive to attracting a pool of visitors from the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. The primary source of these visitors include residents of predominantly Muslim OIC member countries, such as the GCC states. Demand also exists from regions with fast-growing Muslim populations such as the European Union, the US, Canada, China and India.

The Indonesia tourism ministry has this year designated at least 10 provinces as halal tourist destination regions, including several in Java and two in Sumatra (West Sumatra and Aceh).

The country has to develop its halal tourism destinations as these have the potential to attract foreign tourists, particularly those coming from the Middle East, according to Oneng Setya Harini, assistant deputy for people empowerment and destination management of the tourism ministry.

“We will encourage and develop Aceh and West Sumatra to become halal tourism destinations. The two provinces have more attractiveness and various tourist sites,” Ms Harini says.

Indonesia is making the push as halal tourism is growing across the region, particularly in neighbouring Malaysia. With 5.6 million Muslim tourist arrivals in 2014 making up about 20 per cent of all visitors to Malaysia in 2014, and the number one position on the Global Muslim Travel Index 2015, halal tourism is a fast-growing niche market for the country, says the economic research group The Business Year in a recent report.

It was an early mover in modern promotion of halal tourism. The Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) was set up by the Malaysia’s ministry of tourism in 2009 to encourage the growth of the industry.

In 2012, the ITC launched the strategic plan for Islamic tourism development, which formally defines Islamic tourism as “an activity, event and experience undertaken in a state of travel that is in accordance with Islam”, the tourism department says.

The blueprint includes the development of a set of halal standards that outline how key industry players (hotels, travel agencies and tour guides) can prepare and cater for Muslim visitors.

The strategy is designed to maximise benefit from what The Business Year estimates will be total global spending by Muslim travellers of $238bn by 2020.

“We have to become better than Malaysia, which is why we will develop Aceh. Aceh has a strong Islamic culture and natural potential. People come to Indonesia for its culture,” Ms Harini says.

Another aspect Indonesia is keen to highlight is that halal tourism is designed not only for Muslims but also for non-Muslims. “There is still a misunderstanding about halal tourism and some people think it is meant for Muslims only as all things must be based on Sharia,” says Burhasman, the head of tourism and creative economy office of the West Sumatra province, who like many Indonesians, goes by one name.

According to Tazbi, the deputy assistant of business and market development at the ministry of tourism, halal tourism is a universal concept “which includes serving healthy food, providing clean accommodation and ensure good hospitality”.

“It is suitable for all people.”

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