By Layan Damanhouri
JAKARTA — Indonesia’s 14,000 islands and hospitable weather all year round coupled with its diverse culture serve as a big attraction for as many as 9.5 million foreign tourists annually. However, Bali continues to swallow a large chunk of the number of tourists arriving in Indonesia followed by Jakarta. Even in the popular hotspot of Bali, foreigners tend to go to spend most of their time at the beach.
“The world needs to know that Bali is more than just pretty beaches, underwater sports and nightlife,” says Ameer Brontoari, tour guide based in Bali. “It’s home to some of the world’s greatest treasures awaiting to be discovered. The genuine and friendly people, the breathtaking temples, mountains and waterfalls, and amazing culture always surprises you every day no matter what time of year you visit.”
Indonesia’s tourism ministry seeks to boost infrastructure to attract more visitors to explore the country’s islands and experience Indonesian culture that includes over 700 languages, diverse customs and traditions, thousands of local delicacies and signature foods.
Located in East Bali, a 700-year-old indigenous village offers a glimpse into the past. Its residents live in traditional homes made of bamboo and invite visitors in where some even sell traditional clothing. The village community is well-known for preserving a centuries-old culture and social life.
Not only has it preserved its authenticity, Penglipuran Village was voted by UNESCO as one of the world’s cleanest villages.
“The local government has been proactively promoting and providing incentives to tourist operators that integrate not only natural attractions, but also cultural activities and community empowerment as well as environmental contribution into the agenda,” says Brontoari.
“I believe the local and central government are heading in the right direction in terms of priorities by focusing on effective infrastructure, natural and cultural conservation, social participation, as well as policy and regulations,” he adds.
In Malang, East Java, a residential district area managed to unintentionally attract tourists after a group of university students renovated and painted a slums area into a joyful neighborhood. Kumpung Warna-Warni now invites visitors for a fee to walk into the brightly colored “village” to support its families.
For an outsider to experience Indonesian culture, it’s simply joining the many activities and festivals of the community’s daily life.
In West Java, the city of Bandung is a favorite escape for Jakartans who want to seek refuge in the mountains filled with lively festivities and charming nature. Despite a small population of 3 million, 60 percent of its inhabitants are young. “This is an opportunity for us,” says Kenny Dewi Kaniasari, head of Bandung Tourism and Cultural Office. “The creativity of our people as well as the lively atmosphere is what attracts tourists.”
“Our younger generation is more internationally connected and fluent in English,” Brontoari further says. “We are known for our open arms, non-prejudice sincerity. In villages, you will find genuinely friendly and helpful people, and I’m sure those values will not change with time.”
Bandung’s 200 local and international events all year long in art, design, cuisine, music and fashion boosted the city as an innovative and creative hub and was recently invited to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Bandung sees an annual growth of 5 percent in the number of tourists annually, now competing with destinations such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Asked about the municipalities’ strategy to maintain its natural beauty while developing the tourism infrastructure, Kaniasari said: “Green tourism is our principle. The local community makes sure the environment is not harmed.”
Traffic congestion and infrastructure for proper public transportation remains to be a challenge, she added.
Municipalities also work on developing agro-tourism and offers home stays in addition to hotels.
“We may still need to improve our transportation infrastructure that make exploration and moving from place to place easier,” added Brontoari. “We have progressed so much in the past five years in tourism promotion, providing support for local destinations with the know-how to leverage their potential and empowering local communities to anticipate the arrival of global travelers without compromising the environment and local wisdom.”