INDONESIA – Local advocate wants locals to benefit more from West Manggarai tourism

Ica Marta Muslin, 35, from Manggarai regency is quite an influential figure on the local tourism scene.

Working for the Wicked Diving foundation as community project manager, she has encouraged and assisted Labuan Bajo residents in West Manggarai regency to become dive masters. Up to six people have received funding from the foundation for the required training. Four of them have become dive masters and two are now working as adventure guides.

Ica is also an active advocate in West Manggarai. Alongside local communities, she has joined peaceful movements and campaigns that focus on tourism, such as fighting to keep Pede Beach a public space. Her statements could also be found in mass media, as she insisted that locals should get more benefits from the region’s tourist industry.

“I have been working in tourism my whole life. I’m actually a law graduate [from Warmadewa University in Bali] who decided to enter the tourism scene. Learning from my previous experience in Bali, I think that locals should not be cast aside from the tourist industry; they should get more benefits from it,” she recently told The Jakarta Post in Labuan Bajo.

Previously a restaurant manager in Karma Bali in 2009, Ica said she returned to Flores as she felt the need to aid in its development. Fortunately, there was a vacancy at a business-oriented independent foundation for international development cooperation Swisscontact in Flores. She later applied and was accepted.

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Indonesia – Tana Toraja to be next top-priority tourist destination

Designation of Toraja as prioritized tourism destination to help improve accessibility, spurs development World Bank may become engaged in development of Toraja

Some tourist destinations have made a name for themselves long before the authorities granted them the special attention they deserve.

For many foreigners, Tana Toraja rings a bell because of its widely distributed coffee as well as its cultural heritage sites exposed in international publications and at global tourism trade fairs.

However, it was only recently that the government decided to designate Tana Toraja, the pride of South Sulawesi, as one of its emerging tourist destinations to be developed as a matter of priority, along with 10 others appointed earlier.

A special team comprising members of various ministries and agencies had been set up to speed up the development of Tana Toraja, said Deputy Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Safri Burhanuddin.

“Tana Toraja itself is already part of the national strategic tourism area, so we will only need to carry out an integrated study to develop Toraja further,” said Safri, who oversees human resources, knowledge and technology as well as maritime culture at the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister.

(Read also: Toraja to be next top-priority tourist destination)

The team’s main tasks will include improving access to the area, particularly by expanding Pongtiku Airport and completing the construction of Buntu Kunik Airport.

At present, tourists typically embark on a nine-hour car ride from the provincial capital of Makassar to reach Tana Toraja.

Safri said the aim was to promote Tana Toraja as Indonesia’s main cultural destination.

Home to thousands of indigenous Torajan people, the area is widely known for its unique traditional funeral ceremonies, beautiful housing architecture and buffalo fighting, among other things.

Tana Toraja welcomed 296,136 domestic and 34,865 foreign tourists in 2015, according to Tourism Ministry data.

In the same year, North Toraja hosted 286,669 domestic and 32,763 foreign tourists.

The government hopes to double arrivals by 2019.

A recent visit by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, himself a South Sulawesi native, had played a significant role in the area’s designation as the 11th emerging tourist destination, Safri said.

The government has declared tourism one of the country’s main sectors to develop and expects to garner US$20 billion in foreign exchange revenue in 2019, double the figure of 2013.

To achieve this goal, it eyes 15 million foreign tourists this year and 20 million next year.

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Exploring Japan’s rising dragon

Cool air greeted us as we were getting out of Chubu Centrair International Airport located south of Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, upon our arrival in central Japan. We, a group of Indonesian journalists and bloggers, were in Japan by invitation from Cathay Pacific and the Japan National Tourism Organization to explore several cities in the Shoryudo area.

The region is nicknamed the “rising dragon” based on the shape of the Chubu and Hokuriku regions at the heart of Japan, with the Noto Peninsula forming its head and Mie Prefecture its tail, and its rising body covering every part of its nine prefectures.

“Tomorrow, get ready to layer up because the place we’re going to is very cold,” warned our tour guide, Akiko “Ako” Konishi. “The weather forecast even said it will be snowing tomorrow.”

This was not my first trip to Japan but I believe there’s always something new waiting to be discovered and snow would certainly not stop me.

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen is a perfect place to visit if you like to stroll around in a beautiful Japanese garden. Located on a hill in the central part of Kanazawa city, it is regarded as one of Japans three most beautiful gardens alongside Kairaku-en in Mito and Koraku-en in Okayama.

“Out of the three, my favorite garden is Kenrokuen, it’s beautiful at all seasons but the sight in winter is at its most extraordinary,” said Ako.

Originally the outer garden of the Kanazawa Castle, the 11.4-hectare Kenrokuen garden was opened to the public in 1874. It is home to about 160 plant species and 8,200 trees.

There are many beautiful spots inside the garden but it is renowned for its majestic Karasakinomatsu pine trees. In winter time, gardeners set up yukizuri snow support to prevent the pine trees’ branches from breaking under heavy snow, creating a surreal geometrical sight from a distance.

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Indonesia – What to do in Raja Ampat beyond diving, snorkeling

 

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located in the west tip off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. This scenic place, comprising 1,500 islands and 100 villages, has been dubbed “The Last Paradise” and “Underwater Paradise” by many people.

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located in the west tip off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. This scenic place, comprising 1,500 islands and 100 villages, has been dubbed “The Last Paradise” and “Underwater Paradise”  by many people. 

These labels are not without reason. According to the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, Raja Ampat is home to 75 percent of the coral reef and underwater biota around the world; 1,508 species of fish, 537 species of coral and 700 types of mollusks. A report from Raja Ampat’s Tourist Information Center shows that every year since 2007, Raja Ampat has had an increase of visitors ranging 1,000 to 2,000 each year. In 2016, for example, there were around 20,000 visitors from around the world spending time in the archipelago. 

Unfortunately, some of the tourists come to Raja Ampat only for diving and snorkeling. They join a cruise and stay in a boat. For me personally, staying in a boat without experiencing enough land life is a miss of full Raja Ampat experience. Despite its beautiful marine life, Raja Ampat has so much more to offer beyond diving and snorkeling. 

Teaching English to local children is one of the greatest and most meaningful activities in Raja Ampat. It is the best way to connect with locals and learn about their culture. In Sawinggrai village on Gam Island, for example, there is a volunteer project known as Sawinggrai English Effort. Its purpose is to help local villagers learn English from visitors. Here visitors can have a proper English class at the local school or at the learning center provided by the village. 

Visitors can also participate in a “walking program”, simply play or swim with the students while learning words like sand, shells, stones and fish. Whatever the plan is, the local learners will always be excited to spend time with foreigners. Best of all, there is a local coordinator who will help the visitors recruit students and organize your class. Those who are interested in the program can visit seerajaampat.com for further information. 

Another recreation is to take a nature walk and explore the wildlife. Raja Ampat is not only rich in marine life, it also has diverse flora and fauna. The cutest animal in Raja Ampat is probably a Cuscus. These marsupials are actually nocturnal, but visitors sometimes can see them during the day on the top of coconut trees. Other common animals found in Raja Ampat include monitor lizards, coconut crabs, bats, sugar gliders, and a lot of birds. 

Some areas in Raja Ampat also have orchids growing wildly or planted by locals. Up the hill in Sawinggrai on Gam Island, there is an orchid garden where the villagers planted many kinds of orchids from some islands in Raja Ampat. Besides orchids, there are many types of plants as well. To take a walk, visitors can ask their homestay owners or villagers to show them the local garden and forests. 

Birdwatching is another exciting activity, considering the diversity of Raja Ampat’s bird life. A trip to Raja Ampat will not be complete without doing a single bird watching trip. According to the Avibase – Bird Checklists of the World, Raja Ampat is home to 362 species of birds. The list includes Wilson’s and Red Birds of Paradise, which are among the most beautiful birds on the planet. Both birds of paradise can be found on Waigio Island, the biggest island in Raja Ampat. The red one can be easily found on Gam Island. To do bird watching, visitors can hire local tour guides, or they can go by themselves.  

Many visitors come to Raja Ampat only for diving, snorkeling, and enjoying the marine life. While nothing is wrong with that, it is a shame to miss other wonderful things that Raja Ampat provides. Other activities like birdwatching, taking a nature walk, and teaching local children English are worth spending time on. (kes)

Source: theJakartaPost
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Sky is the limit for ticket booking application of Penguin airline

PENGUIN, Thailand’s first travel-tech mobile application, is expected to generate online air-ticket transactions valued at Bt500 million annually in the next couple of years, making it the No-1 travel app in a fast-growing market.

Kittikorn Kunnalekha, chief executive officer of Asia One Click, said the company had developed Penguin as an air-travel booking app to support the high growth potential for online airline ticketing. 

 The mobile app sets out a range of special prices and promotions, from which users can choose the best option and reserve and pay for the ticket via their smart phone.

 “We are providing a travel-tech application to support the new era of online travel. Our system is able to connect with more than 500 airlines with promotions and special prices for customers. The software was launched at the end of last year and Penguin now has around 20,000 active download users, which is expected to rise to 300,000 active users by the end of this year,” he explained.

Asia One Click expects that within the next couple of years, Penguin users will be generating ticket purchases worth around Bt500 million annually, making it the app the Thai market leader for mobile reservations, the CEO added.

 The company’s income from the app comes from an air-ticket booking commission paid by users, and payments made by participating airlines. 

 Google reported recently that the online air-ticketing market in Thailand was valued at US$2.4 billion (Bt84 billion) in 2015, a level that is expected to reach $12 billion in the next 10 years, with annual growth of around 18 per cent. 

Source: TheNation

CNN names Isaan as one of best places worldwide to visit this year

THAILAND’S northeastern region of Isaan was recently named by CNN as one of the top 17 places in the world to visit this year.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the TAT, (TAT) said: “Isaan has a long history with some of Southeast Asia’s oldest settlements found here. In modern times, the region is famous for its fiery salads, country music, stunning scenery and elaborate temples. 

“There is so much to be enjoyed here and most of it is unseen by tourists, so we encourage people to explore and discover their own amazing Isaan stories.”

The flowers of the Red Lotus Sea in Khumphawaphi district of Udon Thani are usually in full bloom from New Year until around February. Tourists can hire a boat to see the red lotuses up close and enjoy the natural scenery of the freshwater lake and waters, which are home to a variety of fish, birds, wildlife and aquatic plants.

 The list was put together by CNN travel experts and international reporters who named their favourite destinations around the world for a feature on the news organisation’s website. Other destinations on the CNN list included Penang in Malaysia, Columbia, Bordeaux in France, Bhutan, Albania and Senegal.

Isaan was cited as “a piece of Thailand that’s still largely unexplored by the international market”. CNN also noted Isaan’s “excellent infrastructure” including domestic airports and hotels.

CNN also wrote about Isaan’s most famous food exports, sticky rice and papaya salad, as dishes that are among Thailand’s best – provided diners can handle the spices.

Aside from Isaan, Bangkok was named the “Best City” in Asia by readers of DestinAsian, a travel and lifestyle magazine in the Asia-Pacific region with a print run of 33,414 copies and a readership of 100, 242 per edition.

This is the 12th annual DestinAsian Reader’s Choice Awards and Bangkok took the top spot in the city category with Singapore and Hong Kong taking the second and third place on the list. Another popular Thai city, Chiang Mai, was also popular with DestinAsian readers, taking ninth place in the poll.

This poll shows how Bangkok is fast becoming a popular short-haul trip for travellers and tourists across the region. The city offers a range of shopping and entertainment as well as historic sites, temples and attractions that can be easily enjoyed by visitors coming for a few days visit.

Source: TheNation

Thailand – Cabinet extends visa-fee waiver till August

The Cabinet has decided to extend the free-visa incentive for foreign tourists by another six months.

Under the measure, visa fees will be waived at all Thai embassies and consulates until August, though visas on arrival will still cost Bt1,000.

On Tuesday, Government Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said that waiving visa fees from December to February 28 had resulted in a 12-per-cent increase in foreign arrivals.

The move to waive visa fees was first introduced on December 1 after arrivals from China plummeted by 30 per cent due to last year’s crackdown on zero-dollar tours.

The government hopes that extending the visa-fee waiver for all nationalities will give Thailand’s tourism industry a boost as it heads into what is traditionally a low season.

Source: Thailand – Cabinet extends visa-fee waiver till August

Cambodia – JC Airlines is almost ready to fly

With its operating licence almost in the bag, JC International Airlines is gearing up to launch passenger service next month with two aircraft and an ambitious expansion plan.

The Cambodian-registered airline, managed by China’s Yunnan Jingcheng Group, the parent firm of China’s Ruili Airlines, expects to launch its first flight on March 17.

Initial service will cover domestic routes, flying between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, according to Cheav Kirirom, the airline’s production manager.

“This is a new brand of airline offering a full range of products and services to passengers, and providing excellent service and comfort, [as well as . . .] reasonable fares and good connections,” he said yesterday.

JC International Airlines has already received two Airbus A320s from Ireland-based air leasing company Avolon. The aircraft, one new and one briefly thrown into service by Air Berlin, will be configured as all-economy class with 180 seats.

According to Kirirom, two additional A320 aircrafts are on order and expected to arrive in June and November, respectively.

“As to plan, we are scheduled to add four aircrafts every year to operate on more prospective routes,” he said.

The additional planes will allow the airline to add international service starting with flights to Ho Chi Minh City, then adding routes to China and ASEAN countries.

Kao Sivorn, general director of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), confirmed that JC International Airlines had acquired two A320s for its upcoming operations, and could expect to receive its air operator’s certificate (AOC) by early next month.

“We are now in the process of checking [the licence application,] which is now in the third phase in accordance with international regulation requirements,” he said.

“We expect it will be done and ready to receive its AOC in March.”

According to an operations plan submitted by the airline to the SSCA, and which differs slightly from details provided yesterday by the airline, JC International Airlines has applied to operate weekly service between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, three flights a week between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, and three flights weekly from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville.

The airline has also applied to fly three times a week between Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur, three times a week to Singapore, four times a week to Hong Kong and once weekly to Bangkok.

“The main target of JC is Chinese passengers,” said Sivorn, adding that the airline’s management has laid out plans to operate a fleet of 20 Airbus aircraft by 2020.

JC International Airlines registered at the Ministry of Commerce in June 2014 with $1 million in registered capital. Its total investment is $100 million, according to Sivorn.

“Investment in airlines provides a lot of benefits to all sectors and promotes economic growth,” he said.

Source: PhnomPenhPost

Action needed to lure 10 million Chinese tourists to Indonesia

Shì shí shèng yú xióng biàn (actions speak louder than words), according to the Chinese proverb and more action is what Indonesia needs to realize its ambitious goal to attract 10 million tourists from the world’s second-largest economy by 2019.

The latest data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) show that even though there was a 25 percent annual increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Indonesia in 2016, the increase only resulted in 1.43 million tourists, falling short of the original target of welcoming 1.7 million Chinese tourists last year.

In addition to the Chinese tourists, the total number of tourists also fell short of its 12 million goal, standing at 11.5 million only.

With the latest result, the tourist industry under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration has until now attracted 3.6 million Chinese tourists, making the 10 million benchmark difficult to achieve.

Indonesia must carry out extra efforts to lure more than 2 million Chinese tourists every year for the next three years, while at the same time, neighboring countries are also eyeing a bigger slice of the pie of the outbound Chinese tourist figure, which stands at more than 120 million globally per year.

The Tourism Ministry’s AsiaPacific promotions director, Vinsensius Jemadu, said the problem was mostly related to a lack of flight access from China to Indonesian cities, beyond Denpasar in Bali and Jakarta, even though the visa requirement had been scrapped in 2015.

“Our competitor, Thailand, can welcome 8 to 9 million Chinese tourists per year. Imagine, there are airlines that can connect 15 cities in China and Thailand,” he said on Thursday.

Thailand is indeed a very attractive destination in Southeast Asia for Chinese tourists. Thailand welcomed 8.87 million Chinese tourists last year, an increase of 12 percent from 2015, dominating Thailand’s list of foreign tourists.

The Thai government expects to see 9 million Chinese visitors this year, boosting its tourist industry, which already accounts for 11 percent of Thailand’s US$395 billion gross domestic product (GDP).

Meanwhile, Singapore and Vietnam welcomed more than 2 million Chinese tourists last year.

In Indonesia, most of the airlines connecting Chinese cities and Indonesia are charter flights. The government plans to work with more airlines this year to provide wider access.

“We can increase promotion, but if they don’t know how to get here, it will be very hard. Even when we promote in the secondary and tertiary cities in China, they still need to go to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, which costs a lot. So they go to Thailand, Malaysia,” Vinsensius added.

With 80 percent of foreign tourists arriving in Indonesia by air transportation, the ministry is gearing up to roll out a stimulus for airlines to open routes to destinations other than Bali and Jakarta.

Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) vice chairman for tourism Kosmian Pudjiadi voiced a similar concern, stating that the number of direct flights from China needed to be increased, with connections to at least 25 Chinese cities.

The government expects to welcome 15 million tourists in 2017, with 2.1 million tourists expected from China. Jokowi has signed an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to attract 10 million tourists from China.

However, funding is also an issue for the ministry, as it faces a lower promotional budget as a result of state budget cuts, forcing it to cancel several sales missions and selling activities in China.

Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) chairman Hariyadi Sukamdani attributed the failure to reach last year’s target to a lack of sales despite heavy promotional efforts.

“Our brand has improved, but to make more people visit, there needs to be actual selling,” he said

Source: TheJakartaPost

Indonesia – Curug Tilu: Grand Canyon in Sukasari

Thanks to the development of smooth road access to the Sukasari district, the more-than-50-year isolated region has now become open.

The pulse of local residents can now be strongly felt and even people from outside Sukasari have started to come to the region.

The region offers hidden natural attractions that remain untouched. Sukasari, the land of which is mostly covered in forest, turns out to have its own “Grand Canyon.”  

The “Grand Canyon” is called Curug Tilu and it is situated in Ciririp village, Sukasari district, Purwakarta regency.

To reach the destination, visitors can take advantage of either the Cikao Bandung Jatiluhur road or the Maniis–Sukasari road. Cikao Bandung Jatiluhur connects directly to a segment of the smooth Sukasari road. It takes about 40 minutes for visitors to reach Ciririp village.

The Maniis–Sukasari route is not recommended yet as the road remains under construction by the local administration. 

To reach the Curug Tilu area, visitors must take a small 1-kilimoter-long road from the main road.

Prior to reaching Curug Tilu, visitors will first be greeted by a traditional bamboo grotto with palm fiber as its roof. The grotto is known as Pos KOMP@S (Komunitas Pecinta Alam Sukasari – Sukasari Nature Lover Community).

That is the place where a community led by Muhammad Arifin, 32, has been working to develop eco-tourism since 2013.

“We see the open road access conducted by [incumbent Purwakarta regent] Dedi as an opportunity. Why not? The nature that has remained intact has tourism potential that we can introduce to the public at large and we have to take care of it,” said Arif during a discussion at the Purwakarta Communication and Informatics office.

Arif explained that facilities for visitors to enjoy when visiting the Curug Tilu homestay were already available. The homestay, located on the edge of a curug (waterfall), is complete with a hammock and swimming pool. The facility package, priced at Rp 50,000, includes nasi liwet (rice cooked in coconut milk, chicken broth and spices)

“Actually, we have yet to set the price of nasi liwet. The portion of the rice is enough for five persons. So you do not have to cook it yourself,” he explained.

Visitors will be surrounded by the beautiful sight of a green natural panorama and stony mountain contour. The water appears green, precisely like the “Green Canyon” in Pangandaran district, West Java.

Arif acknowledged that he has been relying on young people in Ciririp village to manage the tourist activities. KOMP@S, which he leads, plans to further develop local tourism by offering river tubing and body rafting.

“Frankly speaking, what we have done is far from optimal because our members are still limited to young village people. We want it to be better. But thank God, we see between 20 and 30 visitors daily in [Curug Tilu]. They come from Jakarta, Karawang and Purwakarta,” he said.

The local youth have promoted the area through their social media accounts to attract more visitors.

Source: TheJakarta Post