TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Thailand’s gastronomic approach to promoting tourism impressed Wishnutama Kusubandio, the newly minted tourism and creative economy minister. Throughout 2018, the land of the white elephants managed to attract 38.3 million overseas tourists, earning itself the title of the most visited Southeast Asian destination. Indonesia only made it to the fourth place behind Malaysia and Singapore.
Wishnutama said Thailand’s smashing success is the fruit of the government’s persistent efforts in bolstering Thai cuisine overseas since late 80s. “They opened a massive number of fine dining Thai restaurants around the world,” he said during a special interview with Tempo on Monday, December 2, 2019. The introduction to the flavors of Thai food piqued the interest of international tourists to visit the country.
Therefore, when he was picked to replace Arief Yahya, Wishnutama immediately set out to prepare a tourism development strategy. Alas, he was dumbfounded to learn that the ministry he was going to lead did not have a national tourism master plan. “Thailand, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates have the master plan until the next 40 years,” he said.
Since he took office on October 24, Wishnutama, 49, has already visited Bali, Mandalika and Labuan Bajo. He said his new task posed starkly different challenges. In addition to having to travel to various tourist destinations, he must also develop a creative economy that could have a positive impact on the locals.
To Tempo reporters Mahardika Satria Hadi, Hussein Abri Dongoran and Aisha Shaidra, Wishnutama explained various matters – from the new strategy to attract foreign tourists, the importance of the infrastructure, digital promotion to the merger of the creative economic agency (Berkraf) into his ministry to efforts boost the tourism industry to become the largest foreign exchange income generator. An additional interview was done via text messaging. Excerpts:
How will you reach 18.5 million overseas tourists target next year?
We need to bolster our appeal. We’ve been only focusing on promoting existing attractions. In the future, we need to showcase our culture which is the most important element of tourism. Otherwise, things will be the same and so is the number of tourists.
But we haven’t met our target for this year.
We had 13.6 million overseas tourists as of October out of the targeted 18 million. I estimate the number to climb to around 16.4 million at the end of the year.
Why doesn’t the actual number match the target?
There are many events that made people reluctant to visit Indonesia. One of them is the general elections. Chaos in the country they saw in the news made them think twice to come here. Even if there were no incidents in the regions they planned to visit, people tend to generalize that it was Indonesia. Then there were so many travel warnings (and advisories) issued by our target countries in the wake of natural disasters. All of that hampered tourism.
(Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, Canada, UK, US and the Netherlands issued travel advisories to their citizens last May against traveling to Indonesia following the riots that ensued the presidential election result announcement.)
How will you overcome that?
By creating more appeal. For example, the calendar of events that President Joko Widodo often mentioned – our own events or international events. Then, the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) tourism industry which has its own appeal. These two can be our saviors in driving foreign exchange income from the tourism sector in 2020.
What is the special message from the President to you?
He said that local communities should feel the benefits of the creative economy. Events should be improved and held annually, if necessary, so that the tourism industry can be the highest foreign exchange income contributor. It has already generated US$20 billion this year.
Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine