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17 Jul, 2006

Indonesia Remains “Sick Man” of ASEAN Arrivals 2005

CHIANG MAI — Indonesia remained the sick-man of the ASEAN tourism industry in 2005 with a 6.07% fall in arrivals to 5,002,101 visitors. It was the worst performance of all the 10 ASEAN countries and indicated that the country’s arrivals have remained essentially unchanged since 1996 when arrivals totalled 5,034,472.

A sobering status report presented by the Indonesian tourism authorities at a meeting of heads of ASEAN national tourism organisations here last week showed that two other key indicators, average length of stay and earnings, are also down significantly.

Ever since the 1997 economic crisis and the fall of former President Suharto in May 1998, Indonesian visitor arrivals have never gained ground, affected year after year by a string of political, economic and natural disasters.

The national airline, Garuda, has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and had to pare back a large number of routes, especially from key generating markets in Europe.

As of 6 June 2006, in a desperate attempt to get the numbers up, Indonesia set aside its erstwhile security concerns and extended Visa on Arrival facilities to 52 countries to facilitate visits for holiday, social, business or official purposes. This was in addition to the many countries whose citizens do not need a visa at all.

Indonesia’s ten major source markets of international tourists are now Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, USA, Germany, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

Thai visitor arrivals to Indonesia fell by 18% from 55,024 in 2004 to 46,563 in 2005.

South East Asia and Northeast Asia now contribute 70% of total tourists arrivals with the share of arrivals from Europe down to 16%, Oceania 9% and America 4%.

According to the Indonesian tourist office, efforts are being made to attract emerging new markets like China and India, but up to the end of 2005, there were “only contributing a pretty small portion of the total tourist arrivals.”

Although the target arrivals for 2006 are between 5.5 – 6 million, the report indicated that even this might be difficult, given the impact of the May 2006 earthquake in Jogjakarta and the continuing reports about bird flu in Indonesia.

As they have been forced to do repeatedly over the last decade, Indonesian tourism authorities are again on the defensive, stressing the measures they have taken to rehabilitate the industry and pleading for help.

Indonesia and Thailand, the two ASEAN countries worst hit by the tsunami, were the only ones of the ASEAN Ten to report declines in arrivals last year. A report by the ASEAN secretariat indicated that total visitor arrivals to the ASEAN Ten totalled 51.39 million, up 4.5% over 49.05 million in 2004.

Although Malaysia appeared to lead the pack with 16.43 million, this was largely due to the impact of 9.6 million arrivals from neighbouring Singapore, most of whom were border crossers.

Laos crossed the one million mark for the first time with 1.09 million arrivals, of whom 603,189 were Thais, again mostly border crossers. This number is due to shoot up further with the prospective opening of the second Thai-Lao friendship bridge in the not too distant future.

Cambodia attracted 1.4 million visitors, up 34.73%. The Cambodians reported that tourism is now second only to the garment industry in boosting economic growth and providing jobs, with 64,000 direct jobs and 400,000 indirect jobs.

The Asia-Pacific region was the largest source of Cambodian arrivals with 574,443, a 39% increase, led by the top two markets, Korea and Japan. Visitors from the Middle East totalled 76,644, up 194.60%.

Another erstwhile sick-man, the Philippines, also did well with 2.62 million arrivals, up 14.5% over 2004.

The destination to watch remains Vietnam with 3.46 million arrivals, up 18% over 2004. Although neighbouring China remains the largest generator of arrivals (752,576), now in second place is erstwhile foe, the United States, with 333,566 arrivals, up 22% over 2004.

Although border-crossing arrivals means that ASEAN countries remain their own best source-markets, new markets are emerging, such as India which generated 1.24 million arrivals for the ASEAN countries, led by Singapore with 583,532 arrivals and followed by Thailand with 352,766 Indian arrivals.

Strong growth is expected in future as the ASEAN tourism authorities seek the help of the Immigration and aviation authorities to clear up the bottlenecks and move ahead with the ASEAN Free Trade Area to liberalise cross-border trade and investment.

The World Bank has also become involved in the effort with the funding of a study designed to “integrate” tourism into trade, investment and facilitation efforts.

Thailand is to host the 2008 ASEAN Tourism Forum in Bangkok and has proposed 18-26 January as the dates.

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