The amount of Muslim tourists, especially from the Middle East, may lag behind those from China or other major Asian countries but their numbers are growing year to year, and more importantly they stay for longer and spend big.
According to data from the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry, 89,996 tourists from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates ( UAE ), Bahrain and Egypt entered the country during the January-August period, an increase of 28.3 percent from 64,479 in the same period last year.
'The figure is relatively small compared to larger markets such as China, but their expenditure is bigger than regular tourists because many Muslims travel with their family,' the ministry's meeting, incentives, convention, exhibition ( MICE ) and special interest tourism promotional director, Rizki Handayani, told The Jakarta Post.
The ministry data shows that tourists from non-Muslim backgrounds spend US$1,113 during their vacations in Indonesia while a Muslim traveler spends double to triple that figure.
'They usually spend more than a week in Indonesia and we believe that sharia tourism packages have the potential to attract more Muslim travelers in the future,' she said, adding that Middle East tourists favored Jakarta, West Java and Bali.
Besides the Middle East, other important Muslim markets are Malaysia and Singapore: The number of visitors from both neighboring nations also saw double-digit growth.
The ministry data reveals that there were 1.59 million tourists from Malaysia and Singapore in the first eight months of the year, a 11.5 percent increase from 1.41 million during the same period in 2012.
'Malaysia and Singapore remain among our 16 traditional markets because of their proximity and because we share almost the same culture. Sharia tourism products will help us to better tap into the rapidly expanding number of Muslim travelers from these two countries,' she added.
Apart from the Middle East, Malaysia and Singapore, she said the government would focus its sharia promotion next year on Turkey, India, the UK and Morocco.
Contacted separately, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Tour and Travel Agencies ( ASITA ) Asnawi Bahar said that its members were ready to cater to the Muslim holidaymakers market.
He said that some of its members had been able to integrate Islamic values within the leisure activities they offered.
'ASITA members will always be ready to support any government program including this new form of tourism. But, the government needs to help us by overcoming challenges in developing this sector,' he told the Post.
He said the development of sharia tourism was challenged by the current state of the country's infrastructure and the government's commitment to development in the sector.
He explained that, in light of the administration's end in 2014, the government needed a clear long-term, at least five years, grand-strategy to develop sharia tourism.