Indonesia Grabs the Spotlight at Berlin Tourist Fair

Jakarta Globe, March 16, 2013


Sylvania Hamdani

JakartaGlobe2Visitors to the world’s largest tourism fair in Berlin are used to seeing the cultures of exotic locales put on display as those places strive to establish themselves as the must-go tourist destinations.

So when Indonesia took the spotlight last week at the 5,500-guest gala opening ceremony for the Internationale Tourismus Borse 2013 in Berlin, it pulled out all stops to make an impact.

The virtual tour guide for guests was none other than President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. „Indonesia is a complete destination,” he explained, „from family recreations to international comforts, from water sports to volcanic mountains, from exotic traditional villages to modern shopping and entertainment centers in Indonesia’s big cities, and much more.”

Following the president on stage was Indonesian conductor Aminoto Kosin, who led both the classical Berlin String Construction ensemble and a group of traditional Indonesian musicians from across the archipelago in a cross-cultural, multi-instrumental concert titled „Indonesia, the World’s Heart of Wonders.”

With the eyes and ears sated, it was time for the taste buds. After the show, Indonesian celebrity chef Vindex Tengker served 30 iconic Indonesian dishes to guests, showcasing the country’s cuisine.

Reaching the point where Indonesian culture took such a prominent place at the global event was the product of much laboring — and spending — on the part of the nation’s tourism authorities, who are keen to develop the sector.

Indonesia has participated in ITB Berlin since 1967, but this year it became the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations member selected as an official partner country.

Sapta Nirwandar, vice minister of tourism and creative economy, had two years ago proposed that Indonesia become an official partner country of the event.

„It’s such a prestigious position,” Sapta said. „We struggled very hard to get it.”

Indonesia had to convince the board of directors of Messe Berlin, the organizer of ITB Berlin, of the country’s expertise, experience and seriousness in organizing such events.

To help make the case, the vice minister invited some of the Messe Berlin directors to attend the Asean Tourism Forum held in Manado, North Sulawesi, in January 2012.

„There they saw that we’re accustomed to organizing such international events,” Sapta said.

To become an official partner country, Indonesia invested about $5 million.

„The amount includes the license fee [to become an official partner country] of around 600,000 to 700,000 euros [$778,000 to $908,000],” Sapta said.

The March 5 gala show, conducted at the opening ceremony of ITB Berlin 2013 in the Internationales Congress Centrum, was one of the perks of Indonesia’s elevated status. The country also received strategically positioned advertisements in ICC Berlin, Messe Berlin and all printed materials during the five-day tourism fair.

During his speech at the opening, Yudhoyono said that during the ongoing economic crisis, tourism has become „a critical engine that drives investments and stimulates economic growth.”

„Tourism and international travel creates over 285 million jobs worldwide,” the president said. „Tourism accounts for 9 percent of the world’s GDP.”

In Indonesia, around 9.2 million people, or about 8.4 percent of the Indonesian labor market, are employed in tourism, and the value of the sector totaled $33.8 billion, or about 3.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

Yudhoyono presided over the ceremony along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit.

Prior to the opening ceremony, a group held a peaceful demonstration in front of the ICC. About 20 activists from international nongovernmental organization Watch Indonesia! held placards that read „Justice,” „Save Our Environment” and „No Forest Destruction.”

They held a small exhibition in front of the ICC, showcasing pictures of the 2006 mudflow in Sidoarjo, East Java, polluted streets in Jakarta and forest destruction in Kalimantan. „Indonesia is beautiful, but you have to do something to solve these issues,” said Marianne Klute, an activist with the group.

Klute, who previously lived in Indonesia for 15 years, wanted to remind Yudhoyono to take immediate action on these issues. She also hoped the demonstration would prompt high-ranking German officials to raise their voice on these issues when dealing with their Indonesian counterparts.

„This is a global society,” Marianne said. „So, this is also our [Germany’s] responsibilities. We want a good world for our children and grandchildren.”

Sapta was accepting of the demonstration. „It’s OK,” he said. „It’s part of democracy. The people can say anything. And what they say will become precious input for us.”

Sapta said that the government is already taking action to solve the issues raised. „We’re now a champion for climate change programs,” he said. „President SBY also talks about climate change issues everywhere he goes.”

In addition, Sapta said he believed that tourism was key to the environment.

„Sustainability is a must for the tourism industry,” Sapta said. „No tourists will come if our forests are gone or our beaches are dirty.”

ITB Berlin was open for trade visitors from March 6 to 8, and open to the public for the two days that followed.

Indonesia occupied more than 500 square meters in the gigantic exhibition grounds of Messe Berlin.

Indonesia’s main exhibition area was a two-tiered wooden deck, accentuated with a life-sized, red-and-white hull of a phinisi , the traditional ship of the Bugis people in Makassar in South Sulawesi.

„We’re focusing on marine tourism this year,” Sapta said.

Indonesia is the world’s largest marine country with over 81,000 kilometers of coastline, 28,000 marine flora and 350 marine fauna species. About 12 percent of the world’s coral reefs are in Indonesia.

About 118,000 people arrived in Indonesian on cruise ships last year, and the government aims to increase that number to 500,000 people by 2016.

„We’ve launched a seaport development program,” Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said. Ten seaports, including Benoa port in Bali, will be renovated this year or next. They will be ready to receive large luxury passenger liners by the end of 2014.

At the ITB event, Indonesia highlighted 16 tourist destinations that Mari’s ministry is making the focus of its efforts to develop infrastructure over the next three years.

The destinations include the Borobudur Temple in Central Java, Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Komodo Island in East Nusa Tenggara and Raja Ampat in West Papua.

„First, we aim to extend international direct flights to Indonesia, with the new airport in Bali scheduled to be completed by the middle of this year and the new airport in Lombok now ready,” the minister said.

Second, Mari aims to boost tourism investment in Indonesia in a bid to improve facilities for international visitors.

According to TripAdvisor’s 2012 Industry Index, Indonesia is the most profitable investment market for the hospitality industry, ahead of Brazil, Russia and United States.

Direct foreign investment in the hotel and catering sectors hit a record high of $786 million last year. Domestic investment in the same sectors has more than doubled from $39 million in 2011 to $101.5 million in 2012. International tourist arrivals in Indonesia last year stood at 8.04 million, up 5.2 percent on a year earlier.

The ministry aims to increase international tourist arrivals to between 8.6 million and 9 million this year and 10 million in 2014. Today, most tourists coming to Indonesia are from neighboring countries Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.

On average, these tourists stay about 7.7 days and spend approximately $2,148 on their visits to the country.

Tourism authorities are seeking to broaden the country’s appeal, seeking to attract more visitors from Central and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

„That’s why ITB Berlin becomes very crucial for us,” Sapta said. „Germany is located in the heart of Europe. Thousands of visitors will come to this event and learn about Indonesia. Some of them will surely be interested to visit our country.”

The ministry predicts an increase in visitor numbers of between 10 percent and 15 percent following the tourism fair.

Last year, 156,000 German tourists traveled to Indonesia, up 10 percent from a year earlier. The number is expected to reach between 170,000 and 200,000 this year.

The vice minister argued that promotions were necessary to keep international tourists coming to Indonesia.

„Let’s not forget that we’re up against very ambitious competitors,” he said. „If we’re not careful, they might take away our share [of international tourists].”

A total of 10,086 exhibitors from 188 countries presented their products and services during ITB Berlin 2013.

The vice minister said that Indonesia was „relatively” ready to receive more international tourists. „We’ve increased and improved the facilities and infrastructure to accommodate more tourists,” he said.

Many local communities are also ready to welcome more international visitors to their regions.

„Indonesia consists of people from many different ethnic groups, and they’re mostly hospitable to visitors,” Sapta said. „We [the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry] are also conducting many tourism campaigns and education and training programs to encourage local people to be more open and friendly to tourists.”

In the two-tiered Indonesian exhibition area in Berlin, about 120 exhibitors promoted the country’s destinations, hotels, spas, convention centers and catering services.

Last year, total transactions for Indonesia at the annual tourism event reached about Rp 2.14 trillion. This year, transactions were expected by the government to reach around Rp 2.6 trillion.

One of the busiest of Indonesia’s exhibition areas was that devoted to health care and wellness tourism. The 66-square-meter corner offered free traditional foot and back massages, as well as a free flow of Indonesian premium coffees and canapes.

„Indonesian snacks are all very tasty,” said Rainer Gutwirth, who visited ITB Berlin with his wife on the first day.

Gutwirth, who works for a travel agent in Berlin, said he was fascinated by the rich variety of traditional costumes of the Indonesian dancers. „I think it’s a very, very interesting country, very different from us,” he said. „We’d like to go to visit Indonesia someday.”

There were dozens of cultural performances in Indonesia’s exhibition area each day, attracting large crowds.

Eberhardt Mieth, who came with his wife on the second day of ITB Berlin, said he was very impressed with Indonesia’s cultural performances.

„We come to ITB Berlin each year,” Mieth said. „And we’ve always enjoyed visiting your [Indonesia’s] booth. You have a lot of performances. But each year, it’s different. We never see the same thing twice. And it gives a good impression of your cultures, of what you have to offer.”

Mieth, a travel consultant based in Frankfurt, has already visited Indonesia twice and is keen for a third visit. „We’re planning to come in autumn or winter, to escape the cold weather,” he said.

ITB Berlin 2013 closed on Sunday. More than 110,000 trade visitors and 60,000 members of the public attended.

The Jakarta Globe attended ITB Berlin as a guest of the Indonesian government.

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