JAKARTA (JP): Elements of West Java have played a significant role in thetourist industry. Sundanese music is frequently heard in numerous international hotels, spas and restaurants in Bali. While, from the human resources side, many hoteliers and tour operators in the country are graduates of tourism schools or other education institutes in Bandung, the province's capital. Even white-water rafting guides on Bali's famous Ayung River were trained on the Citarik River in West Java.
Ironically, West Java has been left behind Bali and other Indonesia tourism venues in attracting international tourists.
Memet Hamdan, director of the provincial tourism office recently said that only 320,000 international tourists visited the province last year -- far less than 10 percent of about 5 million tourists visiting Indonesia in 1999.
Promotion is not the main culprit, though it has not been carried out with full efforts. But at least there are always representatives from the province's tourism industry at international travel exhibitions, either at the International Tourist Bourse in Berlin, the Asian Tourism Forum or the World Travel Mart in London. West Java also takes an active part in Indonesia-based international travel marts like Tourism Mart and Expo, heldin Jakarta since 1995, and in the latest of which, West Java was ranked number three for having sold the largest number of packages and tours, after Bali and Jakarta.
Some national tour operators have said that products and infrastructure are the main hindrances, especially for the European market.
Michael Wandow, product manager of PACTO Ltd., one of the oldest inbound tours operators in Indonesia, said that he can only bring his European guests for a maximum of one night to West Java on the popular Java OverlandTour's program. The tourists usually continue their journey to Yogyakarta the day after, and spend three nights or more in that cultural city as it has various historical sites and temples to be explored. While in West Java, they are only taken to traditional spots like Mount Tangkuban Perahu,the Ciater hot springs and Mang Ujo's angklung (bamboo instrument) orchestra.
""We can't take them to other places. We recently tried to explore the possibility of selling Pelabuhan Ratu. But the road is bumpy and there are no other attractions available besides a beach. Yes, there's cave, but it'squite dirty and not well maintained,"" said Wandow.
Herman Rukmandi, deputy chairman of the West Java Association of Indonesian Tour & Travel Agencies (ASITA) and also managing director of Bhara Tour, one of the biggest inbound tour operators in West Java, shared the same idea.
""I have to admit that West Java is only a stopover destination for most of my traditional (European) guests. However, I can keep them here for two nights as it is the maximum length of time for them to spend. During this short time, there should be many good products to sell -- not just a few.
""Besides taking them to traditional places, we could take them to the beautiful Kawah Putih (Wide Crater) in Ciwidey, south of Bandung. Also to the crater of Mount Papandayan and the Geological Museum, which is probablythe best and most complete one available in Southeast Asia. But we cannot visit those places at the moment, except for few special-interest tours, because of the terrible traffic jams and the (proper) infrastructure is unavailable. The 32-kilometer road to Papandayan's crater is bumpy and there is no wider road available to Kawah Putih.""
Another hurdle is the nonexistence of international flights. Since beforethe crisis, no international flights have been available to or from this city.
The still-tarnished international image of the country also contributes to the lack of international tourist visits to West Java.
Luckily, there is still a ray of hope, which is getting brighter. Memet said that Merpati Nusantara will provide flights from Singapore to Bandung this coming October. Merpati will use its Fokker 100, with a capacity of 94seats, to bridge the two cities.
Meanwhile, discussions are underway with Malaysia's Pelangi Air to open aroute from Johor to Bandung. Memet believes these flights will spur international visits to the province.
From the product point of view, Memet says that Bandung will be promoted as a shopping mecca. ASEAN and Middle East countries, whose people like shopping, are the main target markets.
On this stance, Majed Ali Khan, Eastern area sales manager of Kuwait Airways, noted on a recent familiarization trip to Java and Bali that the typical Middle East market is a family-oriented one which prefers shop and go on sightseeing tours amid lush green scenery. ""We don't have anything like that back home,"" said Khan.
Ameriawati Atmadibrata, head of the Commerce and Industry Division of theWest Java chapter of ASITA, added her view on this: ""Customers go to Singapore for shopping. But those used to shopping abroad will find that shopping in Bandung is much cheaper than other places, especially for garments.""
As far as textiles are concerned, Bandung is the cornerstone of Indonesia' textile industry. There are 425 textile factories surrounding the city (not including garment factories), amounting to more than 55 percent of 750 textile factories in the country.
West Java will also boost ecotourism, especially geotourism. The provincehas 23 volcanoes, 17 of which are still active.
""Ecotourism does not need sophisticated facilities. The directorate general of geology has give the green light. Some volcanoes, including the active ones like Tangkuban Perahu and Papandayan, will be tourism sites,"" said Memet.
This is supported by the recent confirmation of Anyer, a tourism spot in western part of West Java, to host the next PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) Adventure Travel & Ecotourism Conference and Mart in 2002.
Another event to boost dollars is the MICE sector (Meeting, Incentive, Convention & Exhibition). According to Nyoman S. Pendit in his book Wisata Konvensi (Convention Tourism), a conference participant usually spends US$210 per day during a duration of four days. This amount is two or three times higher than that spent by tourists.
Though facilities have been added to support this MICE sector (the province has now the 4,000-seat Sasana Budaya Ganesha), some MICE organizers regard them as not yet enough.
""At the moment, West Java is not our main priority for holding large-scale international conferences,"" admitted Weilin Han, assistant director of PACTO CONVEX, which organized the Ministerial Meeting of Non-Aligned Countries and the 40th Commemoration of the Asia Africa Declaration in Bandung in 1995.
""It's the fifth option after Bali, Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya. Lackof accessibility and facilities are the main reasons. But Bandung, Bogor and Anyer have been good venues for small- and medium-scale corporate meetings. While for the bigger international-scale conferences, we would beglad to add our choice of venues should there be improvement in those two sectors"" said Weilin.
To overcome all the hurdles mentioned above, a word from Myra P. Gunawan,a senior researcher at the Center for Research on Tourism at Bandung's Institute of Technology, should probably be taken into consideration. ""Promotion is solely useless should the products not be ready. And product development is a total combination of all ingredients, including more coordination, joint agreements and real action among all parties involved in creating, developing and selling.""
It seems it is high time for the province' many parties to sit together and discuss ways of achieving a holy grail of the most promising field in the world: Tourism.
The writer is the Indonesia correspondent for a Singapore-based tourism publication. She can be contacted at email@example.com.