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Jakarta Post

North Sumatra gives up: Lake Toba not getting 1 million foreign tourists

  • Apriadi Gunawan

    The Jakarta Post

Medan, North Sumatra   /   Wed, February 27, 2019   /   03:09 pm
North Sumatra gives up: Lake Toba not getting 1 million foreign tourists The scenery of Lake Toba. (Pesona Danau Toba/-)

The North Sumatra administration is pessimistic about achieving the Tourism Ministry’s target of one million foreign tourist arrivals to Lake Toba this year as lack of infrastructure has become the main obstacle.

North Sumatra Governor Edy Rahmayadi said it would be difficult to lure 1 million foreign tourists into the province, let alone to Lake Toba. Insufficient transportation and people’s unpreparedness for the trip were major obstacles to the target, he said.

"We are not ready to meet the target of 1 million foreign tourists. It is a tough and unrealistic task," he said recently in Medan, North Sumatra.

Edy made the statement after attending a plenary meeting of North Sumatra’s Legislative Council that discussed the province's 2018 to 2023 mid-term regional development plan (RPJMD), which includes the role of the tourism sector to the region’s economy.

He projected a moderate increase to 320,000 arrivals this year as the province only had 250,000 arrivals in 2018.

For annual foreign tourist arrivals, he said the realistic target would be 500,000 until 2023, which is when his term ends. The number, he said, could change according to the dynamics of tourism in the region.

Separately, Syamsul Qodri Marpaung, chairman of the RPJMD special committee at the North Sumatra Legislative Council, echoed Edy’s statement that his team and the North Sumatra administration had agreed on the more realistic range of between 320,000 and 500,000 arrivals, saying that the central government was “too emotional” when setting the 1 million target.

"We want to be realistic because we only had 250,000 [foreign] tourists [in North Sumatra] last year," Syamsul said on Tuesday.

However, Lake Toba Authority Board (BPODT) president director Arie Prasetyo insisted there would be no change in the arrivals target, although he acknowledged it would take some time to achieve it.

Arie said the Tourism Ministry had made efforts to reach the target, such as by releasing a calendar of Lake Toba events in 2019 that highlights the central theme of "Celebrating Nature in Art". The calendar includes seven events to be held in the area throughout this year, two of which are in the 100-event calendar of the Wonderful Indonesia campaign.

"With the calendar of events, which has been arranged for the rest of the year, we expect the provincial and regency administrations to work together to contribute to the tourist industry in Lake Toba as a world-class tourist destination," Arie said.

The ministry has been promoting the volcanic Lake Toba as one of Indonesia’s designated priority destinations, the so-called 10 New Balis.

Along with its promotion, the ministry came up with the target of 1 million foreign tourist arrivals to the world’s biggest volcanic lake, fourfold higher than the 231,465 arrivals last year.

Based on the target, the ministry expected that foreign tourist arrivals to the destination would contribute up to Rp 16 trillion (US$1.14 billion) to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

Tandeanus Sukardi, a tourism industry player in North Sumatra, shared the pessimism. He said it would be difficult to achieve the target unless the government improves infrastructure in Toba Lake, especially in the hospitality sector.

He claimed that the current hospitality industry in North Sumatra would not be able to serve 1 million foreign tourists.

The calculation is based on hotel room nights, which is a measure of capacity utilization based on the occupancy rate of the rooms, rather than the number of guests. It is often contrasted with the rooms’ daily rates.

“Assuming we have 1 million visitors annually, it would require 500,000 hotel room nights for double occupancy. That means we will need 1,370 hotel rooms daily. Do we have the inventory?” Tandeanus asked.

At least 102 of 622 hotels in North Sumatra are located in the Lake Toba area, according to the BPODT. However, only a small number of the hotels are categorized as three- and four-star hotels.

BPODT marketing director Basar Simanjuntak previously raised the concern as the majority of Lake Toba's visitors, who come from the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore, preferred to stay in luxury hotels.

"We are expecting more luxury hotels in the area of Lake Toba, especially in Parapat," he said as quoted by tribunnews.com, referring the city known as the entrance gate to the lake.

As part of the efforts to boost tourism at Lake Toba, state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura (AP) II recently announced its plan to expand the Silangit Airport, which provides direct access to the lake.

AP II president director Muhammad Awaluddin said in a statement that the company would expand the airport five-fold to 10,499 square meters from 2,500 square meters to accommodate 1 million passengers annually. (ars)