Breaking Travel News talks with Indonesian tourism minister Mari Elka Pangestu, as she shares her vision for ASEAN tourism in 2013.
Breaking Travel News: The ten destinations of ASEAN are very diverse. To what extent is that a help or a hindrance when promoting ASEAN as a destination?
Mari Elka Pangestu: I see the diversity of ASEAN destinations as a strength, not a weakness.
If you go to all ten destinations, you will find some similarities - i.e. warm engagement between tourists and local people.
The main problem in promoting ASEAN as a single tourist destination is connectivity and tourism infrastructure.
To attract more tourists to ASEAN, we should improve connectivity and accessibility by road, sea, air, and rail, within the region.
In my opinion, we should prioritise strengthening domestic, regional and international connectivity and developing tourist destinations through cooperation in infrastructure building, both soft and hard infrastructure.
In order to meet infrastructure needs, joint frameworks such as public-private partnerships should be welcomed.
BTN: In your view, what are the key sales and promotional points that ASEAN should be promoting to tourists in ASEAN and beyond?
MEP: The ASEAN region is rich in culture, heritage sites, diverse landscapes, natural beauty, and marine attractions.
All tourism products could be promoted to every segment of the international tourist market, because each product has its own uniqueness.
I think another important promotional point of ASEAN tourism is the warmth and hospitality of ASEAN people.
Everywhere you go in ASEAN, you will experience how cultures and traditions blend in with contemporary everyday life.
It’s a charming mixture of tradition and modernity.
BTN: What are the main challenges for the tourism sector in ASEAN ahead of AEC 2015?
MEP: Connectivity and infrastructure are the main challenges for ASEAN tourism.
That’s why ASEAN leaders have established the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2011-2015.
ASEAN member states have implemented the 2006 ASEAN Framework Agreement for Visa Exemption of ASEAN nationals to support ASEAN integration and connection as one community (reaffirmed by the ASEAN Leaders at the 19th ASEAN Summit).
In addition, Indonesia and other ASEAN governments also support the initiative to develop the ASEAN common visa (ASEAN single visa) for non-ASEAN nationals in the future.
We believe that this will support the promotion of ASEAN Tourism as a single tourism destination, as well as ASEAN’s greater integration and contribution to the global community.
BTN: How does the tourism industry in Indonesia feel about the advent of AEC 2015?
MEP: Most tourism industries in Indonesia are aware of AEC 2015, and they are encouraged by the government to participate in the development.
In AEC 2015, there will be free flow of goods, services, investment, capital, and skilled human resources.
BTN: What needs to be done to make the ASEAN tourism region more user-friendly for investors?
MEP: There are number of approaches which could be done by the ASEAN member states: providing tourism investment opportunities and incentives, and providing clear rules and regulations in each country.
To promote tourism investment, especially in infrastructure development, Indonesia has implemented three policies: 1) increasing the incentives given to tourism sector investment 2) simplifying the investment procedures in tourism sector, and 3) increasing investment promotions in the tourism sector.
We are also working on adding more Special Economic Zones in tourism.
We already have one SEZ in tourism in Tanjung Lesung, Banten.
Coming up soon will be Mandalika in West Sumbawa.
Having these Special Economic Zones, allows us to offer more fiscal incentives to foreign investment as well as more facilitation to investors.
BTN: Indonesia is making progress on attracting cruise operators. What needs to be done to get the cruise sector activated across ASEAN?
MEP: In order to get the cruise sector activated across ASEAN, we have a work plan that should be done by the ASEAN member states: developing cruise infrastructure; developing itineraries and routes; promoting ASEAN cruises at international trade and consumer fairs; and collaborating with international cruise organisations and associations.
To boost cruise tourism, Indonesia is in the process of completing five ports that can accommodate vessels with a size of 320 metres by the end of 2013 - Sabang, Belawan, Jakarta, Surabaya and Benoa.
An additional three ports which are able to accommodate cruise ships of very large capacity at anchor - Lombok, Tanah Ampo, and Komodo - will also be completed by 2014.
BTN: What message will Indonesia be taking to the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Vientiane in January 2013?
MEP: I believe that the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2013 in Laos will provide a great opportunity for all ASEAN member states to discuss ways to providing an increased number of visitors to the region with authentic and diverse products, enhanced connectivity, a safe and secure environment, and increased quality of services.
At the same time, this has to be done by ensuring an increasing quality of life and opportunities for residents through responsible and sustainable tourism development.
BTN: How desirable is an ASEAN common visa?
MEP: There is no doubt that the ASEAN common visa will increase the number of international tourist arrivals to the ASEAN region.
It will also accelerate the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), and ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC).
BTN: Can ASEAN promote niche activities, such as adventure, experiential, business and long stay—as well as mass tourism? How?
MEP: Yes of course we can. Market segmentation is based on experience and activities.
We can develop appropriate itineraries that meet with tourist needs or creative segmentation.
In Indonesia, we are now focusing on seven special interest tourism sectors: historical and cultural tourism; nature and ecotourism; culinary and shopping tourism; MICE; recreational sports tourism; cruise; and health and wellness tourism.
Our new tourism attractions are expected to draw not only a higher number of tourist arrivals but, more importantly, higher quality tourists.
We hope that foreign tourists will stay longer and spend more time in Indonesia.