TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE GOVERNMENT needs to quickly improve its management of the tourism sector to be able to achieve the target of inbound foreigners. Poor performance in the past four years has mowed down the growth of tourism, to date the backbone of our national export services.
Signs of a slowdown were indeed obvious back in the second quarter of this year. The value of our tourism export services, which measures the purchasing and board and lodging expenditures of foreigner tourists in-country, decreased by one percent compared to the same period of the year before, to US$ 3.02 billion. On the other hand, tourism import services increased by 9.7 percent, to US$ 2.21 billion. Tourism transactional balances only reached a surplus of US$ 805 million, or equivalent to a 21 percent decrease compared to the same period of the year before.
Compared to the other ASEAN countries, our tourism export services lag far behind. Two years ago, Indonesia’s total tourism export services reached US$ 13.7 billion. In the same year, Thailand’s tourism export services totaled US$ 51.1 billion, or nearly four times our tourism export services. Thailand’s figures were followed by Malaysia’s (US$ 20.8 billion) and Singapore’s (US$ 19.5 billion).
Our low tourism export services figure is on par with the average low growth of foreigner tourists to our shores, which in the past four years stagnated at 14 percent. Indeed, to achieve 20 million international tourists – the government’s original target for this year – a growth of some 26 percent is needed. The government later adjusted its target to 18 million incoming foreigner tourists, which was then once again revised to 16.5 million. Up to October, the Tourism Ministry made note that only 13.2 million foreign tourists visited Indonesia.
The unachieved target for inbound foreigner tourists to Indonesia is directly related to the government’s failure to resolve several issues on its homefront. These include matters related to security, comfort, cleanliness and health, human resources and the labor market, environmental conservation, to supporting infrastructures, such as airports and harbors.
A World Economic Forum Report titled “The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019” supports these indications. Even though Indonesia’s competitive tourism index went up two points to number 40 of a total of 140 countries, Indonesia in fact is still haphazard in increasing its scores in several of the tourism basic services. In the matter of health and cleanliness, say, Indonesia is at number 102 with a score of 4.7 on a scale of 7. Indonesia’s position is below that of Vietnam and Laos. Our horrendous sanitation systems and non-availability of potable water are some of the major obstacles for several tourist destinations.
Many tourists are also disgruntled by discriminatory pricing policies they experience in the field. Higher tariffs can easily be found at several tourist destinations, such as at the Ijen Basin and the Borobudur Temple. Whatever the excuse, this policy is off-putting to tourists out for a good time on vacation. Bad ratings by irate foreign tourists spread quickly through social media and travel apps. Lousy recommendations obviously impact the desire of other tourists wishing to visit Indonesia.
The Indonesian tourism sector still has room for growth. The Tourism Ministry should focus on improving basic services still in sad disarray. This should include prepping local human resources to be ready to compete and offer good services to incoming foreign tourists.
All this should be the priority of the government, before promoting new tourism destinations. Without a comprehensive rehaul, tourism transactions will always fall under pressure, and in the end, result in a deficit from ongoing current transactions.
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