By Paul Grigson
When Australians think of overseas holiday destinations, I want Indonesia to be at the top of their list. Australians already account for more than a quarter of tourists in Bali. More than one million visit Indonesia each year.
But I want to see our Bali numbers replicated across the archipelago. I want Australians to experience a sunrise at Mount Bromo, taste the spice of Padang and watch the sunset at Borobudur. I want all Australians to see the Indonesia I have been so privileged to discover over the past year – an Indonesia rich in culture, awash in natural beauty and warm with hospitality.
Tourism powers economies and supports communities. The Indonesian Government has already recognised the potential economic boost a strong tourism industry can deliver. And it has articulated a bright vision for the future, with the development of Indonesia’s most stunning landmarks into new, world-class tourism parks.
Australian tourism can help Indonesia realise that vision. On average, Australian tourists in Indonesia spend more money per day and stay longer than any other nationality. In 2014 alone, Australian tourists contributed 18 trillion rupiah [$1.8 billion] to the Indonesian economy.
In fact, Australians were among the top ten tourism spenders worldwide in 2014, spending the equivalent of 268 trillion rupiah [$26.8 billion] on their holidays.
Bali’s success as a tourist destination is in part due to that province’s extraordinary efforts to make travelling simpler and easier for the average tourist.
As Indonesia seeks to develop the tourism industry beyond Bali, ease of travel will no doubt be critical. Indonesia has already seen a 19 per cent boost in numbers from those countries granted visa free access in 2015.
Based on 2014 figures, a similar boost in Australian numbers would mean an additional 214,421 tourists per year and an added injection of 3.4 trillion rupiah [$342 million] into the Indonesian economy.
For tourism to truly flourish, however, it must flow both ways.
Australia was the tenth most popular destination for Indonesian tourists in 2014 with a total of 149,800 visitors, up 7.6 per cent from the numbers in 2013. These are positive signs, but it is important this number keeps rising in line with the expansion of Indonesia’s middle class.
More Indonesians travelling to Australia will make expanded flight routes between Australia and Indonesia more viable in the long-term, bringing benefits to both our economies.
Indonesian investors may also be missing out on opportunities to capitalise on some of the major tourism infrastructure projects currently underway in Australia. In 2014 alone, investment in the Australian tourism industry was valued at $53.7 billion.
Australia is looking at constructing 20,000 additional hotel rooms. We are on target to meet this goal thanks largely to strong investment from Asian investors in Singapore and China, who have recognised the strong, reliable returns Australia’s accommodation industry brings as a result of our consistently high occupancy rates.
Beyond these economic benefits, tourism builds links between people. It challenges stereotypes. It opens up new worlds and greater understanding.
The great movements of people between Australia and Indonesia are predominantly students and travellers. We’re proud to host more Indonesian students in Australia than the whole of Europe combined, but we need to work harder to attract more.
Indonesian friends and business colleagues who have visited tell me Australia has some of the world’s most unique attractions. From snowy alps and red desert, to lush tropical rainforests and the sparse eucalyptus scrub. Many who come are surprised by the diversity of Australia, whether it is our landscapes, our people – 30 per cent of whom were born outside Australia – or the variety of our local cuisine.
The challenge we face for the health of both our tourism industries is to get more Indonesians to visit Australia in the first place. Once there, I am convinced Indonesians will find as much to appreciate in Australia as I do here in Indonesia.
Every day, I am inspired by what I see in Indonesia. I am inspired by the kindness of the people I meet and by the resilience of their character, even in the face of tragic events like those of 14 January.
While we must continue to be vigilant to security threats, the Indonesian response to 14 January contained a good lesson for us all: life, too, must go on. Terrorism must not be allowed to tear down our communities or sink our economies. Indonesia will recover.
This too is a side of Indonesia I want all Australians to experience – strength, resilience, pride.