Over the new year holidays, while strolling along one of the many sandy beaches in Bali or when enjoying a sumptuous buffet breakfast spread at one of the luxurious resorts, the number of Indian tourists is noticeable.
This should not be surprising as Bali is growing in popularity amongst Indian travellers. Indian visitors to Indonesia have over the last ten years increased steadily from 196,000 in 2009 and are expected to reach 700,000 in 2019. This rise is despite the fact that there are currently no direct flights between India and Indonesia.
Bali is the most popular Indonesian destination not only among Indians but among visitors from all over the world. In terms of visitors, Bali receives six million visitors a year, about twice the number of foreigners that visit the next ranked destination, Jakarta, the capital city.
Bali has many attractions and varied activities to cater to all types of holidaymakers and it is therefore not a surprise that it is so popular with tourists.
A hugely popular activity these days are Instagram tours which take you to idyllic and scenic spots for that perfect Instagram photo guaranteed to increase your followers and likes. Spots that are popular with the social media crowd include the Tegalalang Rice Fields and the jungle swing, the soaring half-moon gates of the Lempuyang Temple, the crystal-clear pools and fountains of TirtaGangga which was once a royal palace, and the amazing TukadCepung waterfall.
Tourists can also visit one of the many beautiful Hindu temples which are dotted all over the island or window shop for art and handicraft at the artist village of Ubud or participate in the various water-sport activities if they are of a more adventurous persuasion.
Indonesia receives over 16 million visitors a year and tourism revenue is USD62.2 billion according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, contributing to about six percent of its GDP.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said in 2018 that he hopes that the tourism industry in Indonesia will surpass that of Thailand’s within the next 5 years with the government aiming for the sector to make up 10 percent of its GDP. This appears to be a tall order considering that Thailand sees about 39 million visitors annually, more than twice that of Indonesia.
What’s holding back Indonesia from achieving its target is a combination of infrastructure – air and land transportation links as well as mobile network coverage, lack of emphasis on environmental sustainability – causing deforestation, the occasional natural disasters – like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as security threats from terrorism.
Indians form the fifth largest group of foreign visitors to Indonesia if citizens of Timor Lesteare are not counted. Timor Leste was a province of Indonesia until 2002 when it gained its independence. Indians on average spend USD 1,073.66 per visit and are the sixth biggest spenders in Indonesia from Asia in 2016, which is the latest published number by Statistics Indonesia. This is higher than visitors from Singapore and Malaysia who to be fair, do come for shorter trips.
In an effort to open new opportunities for tourism, the Indonesian government has been promoting its industrial heritage sites. At its meeting in Azerbaijan last year, UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Committee confirmed the Ombilin Coal Mine, which is in the city of Sawahlunto, as Indonesia’s fifth World Heritage cultural site.
The other World Heritage cultural sites in Indonesia include the Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur, the ninth century Hindu Prambanan Temple compound in the Yogyakarta Special Region, Central Java’s Sangiran Early Man Site where the famed “Java Man” was found, and the Cultural Landscape of Bali Province featuring the Subak system. The country also has four natural World Heritage sites.
The Ombilin Coal Mine, the oldest in Southeast Asia, was first opened in 1892 when Indonesia was then known as the Dutch East Indies and a colony of the Netherlands. Back then, it was one of the world’s leading coal mines producing about 90 percent of Indonesia’s energy needs. It was only closed recently.
Sawahlunto is located about 90 kilometres from West Sumatra’s provincial capital of Padang and not easily accessible. The city is hoping that with the new prestigious accolade, tourists from around the world will find it interesting enough to overcome the inconvenience of getting there.
The other industrial sites in Indonesia being promoted as tourist destinations including Belitung which is an island off the east coast of Sumatra. Besides its distinctive rounded granite boulders and fine sandy beaches, its economic past involved the large-scale mining of tin and iron ore. It has been attracting tourists of late as a result of a best-selling novel, Laskar Pelangi (English: The Rainbow Troops), by world-famous Indonesian author Andrea Hirata. It’s about a group of children growing up in a mining community on the island.
Air connections between India and Indonesia are far from ideal. A traveller to Bali, for example, would usually have a stopover in either Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Indonesian national carrier Garuda abandoned its thrice-weekly direct flight to Bali from Mumbai in April 2019 after less than a year.
However, Indian nationals travelling to Indonesia for vacation and staying for up to 30 days do not require a visa.
(With ANI Inputs)