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Jakarta Post

Ex-envoy's message to diplomats: More beaches, less gamelan

  • Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, January 31, 2019   /   11:00 am
Ex-envoy's message to diplomats: More beaches, less gamelan A man plays traditional gamelan percussion. (Shutterstock.com/evantravels )

Indonesia should focus more on promoting its beaches and clear blue skies instead of leading with its trove of cultural traditions as a selling point to attract more visitors, said former Indonesian ambassador to Poland, Peter Gontha, on Wednesday.

"When I came to Poland, the [embassy] staff immediately said to me, 'let's promote Indonesia and gamelan!' But I just had to say 'stop that,'" Peter said during a discussion on cultural diplomacy hosted by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) in Jakarta.

Peter, a successful businessman and founder of Indonesia's most popular music event -- the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival -- has made the case that a country's rich traditions might not necessarily be its strongest suit when it comes to reigning in more foreign tourists.

“I’m proud of my culture but if I bring in gamelan [a traditional music ensemble] to Poland, […] they will say, 'nice music; which century?' They would look at us like a backward country," he said, recounting his ambassadorial duties overseas.

"But when I brought [pop singer] Dira Sugandi to perform in Poland, all of a sudden Indonesia is [seen as] an advanced country."

By focusing its promotional strategies on historical traditions, Indonesia would be competing with hundreds of other countries doing the very same, Peter said. But not every country has beaches, and definitely no other has Bali.

"You don’t sell your culture overseas -- it's a waste of time and money. [People would be asking] why is our culture better than that in China or Morocco or Spain?” he said.

Instead, the former envoy suggested that Indonesia leverage its many white beaches and scuba diving sites, and talk up the wealth of good hotels, supporting infrastructure and ubiquitous Wi-Fi.

“Singapore is smaller than Greater Jakarta, but why does it attract more visitors than Indonesia? Also, they don't have [much traditional] culture -- they only have barongsai. And people don’t come for the barongsai, they come for security, food and good hotels,” he said, referring to a traditional lion dance with origins in China.

Peter was Indonesian ambassador to Poland from 2014 to 2018.

According to data from the Foreign Ministry, there were around 30,236 inbound tourists from Poland in 2017, a significant increase from the year prior to that, which stood at 27,903 tourists.