Indonesia, Asia’s adventure (travel) capital
The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 11/20/2008 4:29 PM |
So Indonesia has lost the top spot as the hottest headline-grabbing country in the region. The wildly successful Olympic Games were in Beijing. Unlike Thailand, we haven’t had a coup in like forever. Rallies here no longer turn into riots like in Myanmar, and Malaysia has much juicier sex scandals.
But as an adventure travel capital, Indonesia still holds the most promise – a promise that could become reality with some well-placed support.
By December, most people who live here will have heard that it’s Visit Indonesia Year 2008. There are at least two TV ads promoting the tourism campaign. One showcases the traditional jump over a stone wall from the island of Nias, followed by a man climbing a huge tree in a dense forest and a Papuan paddling down a river, before closing with the standard Balinese dancer in all her eye-popping glory. The other features beautiful scenery, kids running through water, a woman relaxing among flowers, a turtle, shopping, an open-air club scene that melts into a colossal dance and a boringly familiar shot of a Balinese temple.
Although the first ad represents Indonesia better, we really rely on the second to get the message across. For we package the country as Bali – with some other cool places thrown in as an afterthought. Why else would the Island of the Gods get most of the time allocation if the powers that be didn’t think it sells the most?
But do we really need to promote Bali still? True, “Indonesia” now usually elicits the response “Where Obama comes from!” abroad. Before last year, however, there was more chance of those potential tourists knowing of Bali than being able to successfully locate the country on a map.
Indonesia’s great natural splendor presents some of the best but as yet untapped potential. Visitors can sail through the wide rivers of Borneo and Sumatra or navigate small waterfalls in south Java. There are real forests to wander through in Borneo and caves to explore in Sulawesi, not to mention beautiful volcanoes to hike across in the famed Ring of Fire.
The basic amenities in some of these areas, of course, may be sorely limited, lacking any resort glitz and glam. For Jakartans, trapped in malls and cooled by air conditioners, it may feel strange not to seek maximum comfort on holiday. “I need my drinks and fluffy pillows,” a friend blurted out when she was invited to a trip to the Malinau forest in Borneo. But isn’t time off also meant to refresh oneself, to see the world from another viewpoint, to get experience?
The “adventure” type of travel also has the advantage of injecting funds directly into local economies, providing jobs and developing new businesses that aren’t capital intensive. What travelers need is pretty basic: a bed, bathroom and food, clean but not fancy. An air conditioner is welcome, but a fan will do.
Positive signs are already there. The latest edition of National Geographic Adventure Travel features the prehistoric-looking dragons of Komodo in Nusa Tenggara as one of the 25 best new trips in the world. The Kaliandra foundation is developing a one-week trekking tour to 3,339-meter-high Arjuna mountain in East Java.
What’s needed now is a one-stop source for complete information on the available adventure spots – how to get there, where to stay and what sights, if any, to look out for. Only detailed information will successfully promote such remote areas and allay the fears of city slickers looking for excitement beyond the usual beaches. The first, and most important, step is getting people to go. Nature’s incredible draws will take care of the rest.
Adventure travel, of course, isn’t the only way to repackage tourism here. It’s simply an example of why we must dare to move away from everything we are accustomed to. It’s so passé to immediately ask “why?” in response to new ideas. How about “why not?”