Shameless Blame-Game

In a spectacular bending of reality, the central government is blaming private enterprise for dismally low tourist arrivals to this country. When the actual reality is that it is the government itself that badly damages Indonesia’s tourism industry and consistency fails to provide services and infrastructure.

This week the marketing chief at the Culture and Tourism Ministry in Jakarta, Sapta Nirwandar, hit out at travel agencies in Indonesia for what he said was their failure to adequately promote tourism packages on an international level, and he charged that they were only interested in the domestic market.

Foreign tourist arrivals to Indonesia are poor, measured against those of our neighbours. Last year 6.4 million foreigners came to Indonesia for holidays, many of them to Bali, and the government is looking to attract 7 million this year to the country. By contrast, tiny Singapore – albeit a big commercial city – gets around 10 million foreign visitors a year, while Malaysia enjoys more than double that figure.

So what is holding Indonesia – a vast and diverse country of many cultures and terrains – back? Is it true that it’s a collective failure among our travel agencies to draw in tourists, as the government insists?

It is not.

We are in an era of independent tourist travel, facilitated by the internet and low-fare airlines. This sidesteps the travel-agent industry entirely, leaving it largely to deal with tour groups.

The authorities in Jakarta and Bali who seek to build up the country’s tourism sector by attracting more foreigners must first be mindful of the experience of holidaying in Indonesia, whether in Makassar, Medan, Jakarta or Bali, which as a global holiday destination supposedly has the infrastructure to support it. It does not.

Foreign tourists arriving in Bali, for instance, are routinely harassed and extorted upon arrival at the airport – often after being left to swelter in hours-long lines awaiting visa processing; they visit tourism sites where there aren’t even functioning toilet facilities; they are made to endure a total lack of public transportation; and they are slapped with obscene taxes of up to 300 percent if they choose to enjoy a drink.

In short, it is a battle to get here, and then a fight to enjoy yourself. But such is the inherent beauty of this land and its people that foreigners are continually drawn in.

So no, it is not Indonesia’s travel agencies that are to blame for the country’s low tourism figures. It is government – at every level.

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One Response to “Shameless Blame-Game”

  1. Tim Robins Says:


    I live in Singapore, and last year I came many times to Bali for short breaks with my family. However, it now costs more than US$40 per person for a visa upon arrival (now US$25 per person, even for short stays) and airport departure tax (Rp150,000), which is US$160 for me and my family.

    There are no such taxes in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and most other Asian countries, and Certainly we will be going to Malaysia and Thailand rather than Bali this year.

    While high entry and exit taxes will probably not deter long haul visitors, they will seriously impact short haul arrivals.

    A better example of shooting yourself in the foot is hard to imagine!

    Tim Robins

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