TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The first half of the year is usually a lean season for tourism industry in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) Province, a center for halal tourism.
This year, however, the Lombok Island enjoyed a significant increase in tourist arrivals.
The beautiful island recorded some 2.2 million domestic and foreign tourist arrivals during the January-July 2016 period, and the hotel room occupancy rate reached some 80 percent.
Intensive tourism promotion activities, organized by both regional and central governments, led to this increase in the number of tourists, Head of the NTB Tourism and Culture Office M. Fauzan said on Aug. 25.
Various national-level events, such as the National Press Day and Quran Recital Competition, held in NTB earlier this year, also contributed to the trend, he added.
The NTB provincial administration has set a target to attract some three million tourists this year.
"Within just first seven months of 2016, we have received 2.2 million tourists. We are optimistic of achieving the target of three million tourists," he remarked.
The NTB administration has lately intensified promotion of halal tourism. Halal means permissible according to Islamic teachings.
"Halal tourism does not concern the products but is related to meeting the criteria for halal services. For instance, beer not being served in hotels is required for the facility to be halal," he pointed out.
Halal tourism not only attracts tourists from Muslim-majority countries but also from others.
Foreign tourists visiting Lombok came from Australia, Malaysia, the Great Britain, France, Germany, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iran, and Oman, among others.
Lombok, one of NTBs main islands, was adjudged the best halal tourism and honeymoon destination during the World Halal Travel Awards 2015 held in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, in October last year. The event was held in conjunction with the World Halal Travel Summit 2015.
Some 65 percent of the 4.7 million population of West Nusa Tenggara lives in Lombok and up to 93 percent of them are Muslims.
The NTB tourism office has improved facilities and services for Muslim tourists, for instance, by providing halal food and easy access to facilities for Islamic prayers and other activities in accordance with the Islamic laws (Shariah).
The ministry has planned to set up a Middle Eastern culinary center in Loang Baloq tourism park located near a beach in Mataram, Lombok Island, to anticipate increased arrivals of Middle Eastern tourists, Deputy Mayor of Mataram Mohan Rolisakana disclosed recently.
Emirates Airways plans to start direct flights to Lombok International Airport from December 2016.
Indonesia`s flag carrier, Garuda Indonesia is also considering serving direct flight between Lombok and Jeddah of Saudi Arabia, Dasep Suanda, a general manager of Garuda, said on Aug. 24.
"Many foreign tourists are visiting Lombok, but we have to study the demand during non-peak season every year. We have to consider the conditions in winter and summer," he added.
Meanwhile, General Manager of PT Angkasa Pura I of the Lombok International Airport I Gusti Ngurah Ardita said the state airport company plans to team up with the tourism service and travel agents to organize Bali-Lombok and Lombok-Bali tourist flights.
Ardita said Lombok, which is located relatively close to Bali, could gain from the fact of its location as Bali is well known all over the world.
Furthermore, Akmal Saleem, an investor from Saudi Arabia, is interested in building an Islamic tourist resort for Muslim holidaymakers in Lombok.
"This resort will be built for Muslim families around the world, so they can enjoy their holidays while also experiencing a spiritual ambience," CEO of Maarij Capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia said recently.
Akmal could not provide details on the land area required for developing the Muslim holiday resort, but he did speak about some of the facilities on offer, such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, and swimming pools, all of which would be built based on the Islamic concept.
"We will build a hotel for Muslim families, halal restaurants, and indoor swimming pool for women," he said, adding that the resort will also house a library for Muslim tourists.
Akmal remarked that the holiday resort would be located on a private island with a beach area for women where the entry of men would be prohibited.
"There will also be a special beach for men and one for families. All of them will be located away from each other," he explained.
Akmal admitted that he had developed a liking for Lombok and Mataram after visiting the regions.
He hoped the Muslim tourist site will be ready by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
He has invited all, individuals and companies, to take part in the construction of the Muslim tourist resort project in Lombok.
Globally, halal tourism sector is considered to grow rapidly. "The population of Muslims worldwide is estimated to increase to 26 percent of the total population by 2030, giving opportunities to the Islamic tourism sector to keep growing," the Division President of Mastercard, Safdar Khan, said recently.
Data from Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2016 shows the number of global Muslim tourists' visits reached 117 million in 2015.
The number is estimated to grow to 168 million by 2020 with a total expenditure value of US$200 billion.
The Indonesian tourism ministry aims to attract 5 million Muslim tourists from the Middle East and other parts of the world in the next three years, more than double the 2 million expected this year.
Earlier this year, Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said Indonesia, which has become a top tourist destination for travelers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries, would provide more halal tourist destinations to further lure more tourists from the region.