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