The Jakarta Post
The plan to withdraw the free-visa facility for citizens of dozens of countries is the latest display of not only inconsistency but also lack of prior study on the government’s part when it comes to policy-making. Consider this. In a bid to meet its target of 20 million tourist arrivals by 2019 the government generously offered in 2015 the free-visa privilege to many countries without taking into account reciprocity.
Lesser-known countries were granted the same privilege awarded to countries that have consistently contributed greatly to tourist arrivals. The more countries, the bigger the revenue Indonesia would earn from foreign tourists’ spending during their stay in our tourist destinations, ran the theory.
That was the reason and hope behind the policy. Now nationals from a total of 169 countries enjoy the privilege; they may enter free of charge and roam around the country for a maximum of 30 days. It has made Indonesia probably the most open country in the world.
After more than one year of implementation, the facility has failed to live up to expectations. The Tourism Ministry, for example, found that 49 free-visa recipient countries only contributed 100 tourist arrivals in the first six months since the inception of the policy. The Law and Human Rights Ministry discovered further that 82 countries on the list contributed fewer than 1,000 tourist arrivals each last year. Similarly, the Foreign Ministry called for a review of the policy as some of the countries listed did not reciprocate Indonesia’s gesture.
Such a demand from the government institutions should come as no surprise. They should have anticipated the findings before the launch of the facility. There were no clear parameters as to why a certain country deserved free-visa status, nor adequate consultation with tourism sector players, either at home or overseas.
An obvious lack of research, which commonly happens in the policy-making process in this country, is the lesson that we must learn from the flip-flop visa policy. The ambitious target of boosting foreign tourist arrivals to 20 million in the next two years is not impossible given the country’s huge potential and the government’s commitment, as reflected in the plan to develop 10 destinations such as Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Bromo in East Java, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara, Tanjung Lesung in Banten, Morotai in Maluku, Jakarta’s Thousand Islands and Yogyakarta.
As we cannot always rely on commodities and natural resources as major revenue sources, tourism is a precious asset that unfortunately remains inadequately explored. One by one more tourist sites outside Bali and other traditional destinations have come into the public spotlight thanks in part to internet and telecommunications advances.
Undoubtedly the government must evaluate its visa policy. If we stick to the goal of developing tourism, there is no need to revoke the free-visa facility simply because of a disappointing number of tourist arrivals. Such a move will not rapidly increase non-tax revenues, but much more promotion would in all likelihood help.