Indonesia's Tourism Industry

Indonesia has a long tradition of attracting tourists from all over the world. Since the times when this populous Asian country was under the rule of the British and the Dutch, the so called "Emerald of the Equator" has been a highly sought-after destination for adventurers, explorers, naturalists, and more recently, for tourists seeking warm temperatures year round, sun-filled holidays, and beautiful natural landscapes. Being a developing nation, the tourist industry in Indonesia has faced its fair share of challenges, although it seems that things are finally looking bright for the tourist sector in this country. In this article we take a look at the development of the tourist sector in this Asian country and its current state.

Tourism in Indonesia: from the 1800s to today

Although there is evidence pointing at the fact that Indonesia was a popular destination for pilgrims and royalty as far back as the 14th century, the modern day history of the tourist industry in this country can be traced back to the early 1800s. At that point in time, the country was under the rule of the Dutch, and was known as the Dutch East Indies. A national tourist bureau was established right before World War I, promoting Bali as an exotic and affordable destination. Flights between Amsterdam and Jakarta began to operate regularly in 1929, so it is obvious that demand for transportation between Europe and Indonesia was high.

Tourism in Indonesia declined between the onset of World War II and the early 1950s, mostly due to internal political instability. However, following the establishment of the Inter Department Committee on Tourism Affairs in 1952, the number of tourist arrivals began to pick up once again. Bali remained a particularly popular holiday spot throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and it was during that time that tourist infrastructure began to be developed in other parts of the country.

Just as tourism was becoming one of the most important sources of revenue in the country, the Indonesian tourist industry was hit by a wave of terrorists attacks, which targeted foreign visitors. Between 2002 and 2005, various terrorist bombings caused the number of tourists to drop by more than 32 per cent. Several countries issued warnings against travel to Indonesia, and as a result, the revenues generated by tourist receipts dropped by up to 40 per cent in some areas of the country.

Epidemics such as the outbreak of avian flu and the country's increased risk of being hit by tsunamis and earthquakes are other challenges that the local tourist industry has had to deal with. In our days, it seems that the tourist sector in Indonesia has overcome its most problematic challenges, as the travel and tourism industry have been performing strongly for nearly 3 years. The rise in the number of tourists visiting the country and the increase in tourist expenditure is linked to several factors. In the first place, the public infrastructure has benefited from both foreign and domestic investment, which in 2012 amounted to more than $869 million. The celebration of international events, such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, have also contributed to promoting Indonesia as a safe tourist destination. A number of low-cost airlines have begun to serve several destinations throughout the country, making travel in Indonesia more comfortable and affordable, and therefore driving more visitors to areas other than Jakarta and Bali.

Presently, the majority of tourists in Indonesia come from Singapore (more than 1.5 million a year), Malaysia, Australia, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. In 2012, Indonesia received more than 8.6 million tourists, nearly half a million more than in the previous year.

According to the Indonesian government forecasts, by 2025 the number of foreign tourist arrivals will reach the 20 million mark, and it is expected that by then, tourist receipts will amount to $17 billion a year.

Popular tourist hotspots in Indonesia

Tourism in Indonesia can mostly be classified into cultural and nature tourism. The rich cultural heritage of this Asian country attracts millions of visitors to its ancient temples, former colonial towns, interesting museums and art collections, and tempting food festivals. Golfing and shopping are becoming increasingly popular activities for tourists in Indonesia. The most commonly visited destinations for cultural tourism include the UNESCO Heritage sites at Pranamban and Borobudur, the palaces of Medan, and the cities of Jakarta, Yogjakarta, and Surabaya.

As for nature tourism, visitors continue to include Bali as their favourite destination. Other hotspots include the diving sites in Sulawesi island, the highlands of western Sumatra, the surfing beaches at Aceh and Lombok, the Riau Islands, and the remote beaches of Kendari and Wakatobi. Indonesia's 50 national parks are also popular among tourists who prefer active holidays and adventure sports.