Once we get over this coronavirus epidemic – hopefully sooner rather than later – Indonesia still has big potential in tourism given its beautiful natural scenery and rich culture. With a vast population including 220 million Muslims, there is particular potential for halal tourism, according to the Global Muslim Travel Index.
Amid a global Muslim population of some 1.7 billion, Indonesia and Malaysia share the top position, both scoring 78 in the 2019 Index, which was released by Mastercard-Crescent rating early last year. In 2018, Indonesia was placed second behind Malaysia.
This achievement was possible because of the increasing number of Muslim tourists, with arrivals in 2017 reaching 1.95 million, up 15 percent from the previous year. This produced foreign exchange earnings equivalent to Rp 27 trillion, according to Anang Sutono, head of the Tourism Ministry’s halal tourism development unit.
The increase in Muslim tourists may offset a decline in foreign tourists in general as a result of growing competition among Southeast Asian countries – as long as tourism management improves. Amid tight business competition, the hospitality sector must closely follow customer needs. Thus, the scope of hospitality today goes beyond the provision of accommodation, food and beverages to encompass a sense of excitement through a vibrant and creative atmosphere.
This “sense of experience” needs to be further explored in attracting tourists to Indonesia. For Muslim tourists, the government and private sector have increased conveniences, such as corners for ablution (mandatory before prayers) near restrooms and ample praying spaces. Mosques and halal food are more easily found now around tourist destinations.
But the effort to chase the government’s target of generating $300 billion in revenue from Muslim tourists in 2026 must engage all stakeholders – the government, investors and hospitality managers. Our recommendations in this regard include sharing Indonesia’s rich traditions related to Islam through creative events. For instance, visitors could enjoy the traditional eating of eggs from horseshoe crabs or mimi in Central Java and could participate in the ritual of mabbaca-baca (prayer reading with serving of special dishes) in Sulawesi during Ramadan.
Another recommendation is to strengthen Muslim-friendly hospitality standards, including the provision of sharia banking services at ATMs or bank counters in tourist destinations that are proportional to the availability of conventional banking services. Moreover, the quantity of Muslim-friendly accommodation and lodging, travel services, food and beverages needs to be increased in tourist destinations.
Our third recommendation is for strong online promotion to convey positive messages to a national and international audience, especially focusing on Muslim-majority countries that show Indonesia’s progress in Muslim-friendly tourism. Such a campaign would need a memorable tag line and video content.
Another suggestion is strong research and development on Muslim-friendly tourism development in Indonesia in cooperation with local universities. Seminars and competition for the best research could attract academics to contribute insight on the subject.
By engaging all of those stakeholders by 2026, the government should be able to reach its target.
The writers work at the National Committee for Sharia Finance (KNKS).
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.