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Jakarta Post

Once upon a time: Indonesia to employ storytelling, narrative in tourism recovery strategy

  • Mardika Parama

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, August 19, 2020   /   11:33 am
Once upon a time: Indonesia to employ storytelling, narrative in tourism recovery strategy Lake Toba as seen from the hill surrounding the lake. (Shutterstock/File)

The government is turning to the power of storytelling to promote the country’s major tourist destinations, which will likely involve help from social media influencers, to revive the sector that has been deeply impacted by the pandemic.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, in his annual state address and financial note speech at the House of Representatives on Aug. 14, stated that the approach, dubbed “storynomics,” would utilize the strength of narration and creative and cultural content to promote the country’s tourist spots. It will be part of the government’s allocation of Rp 14.4 trillion (US$972.6 million) to fund tourism recovery efforts next year.

The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry’s undersecretary for tourism products, Rizki Handayani, stated that the government believed tourists would stay longer and spend more at tourist destinations if they understood the tales and contexts surrounding the destinations.

“As we shift our focus to quality tourism, we aim to offer experiences to tourists. What the President means by storynomics is providing tourists stories and narration behind the destination, which would amaze them and spur a sense of adventure so they stay longer,” she told The Jakarta Post in a phone interview on Aug. 15.

The average length of stay for foreign tourists in starred hotels in the country stood at 2.77 days in December 2019, slightly down from 2.87 days in December 2018, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data.

The pandemic has continued to reduce foreign visits to the country, as foreign arrivals fell by 59.96 percent year-on-year to 3.09 million in the first half of the year, amid international border closures and travel restrictions, according to BPS data.

With the decreasing visits, the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) estimated that the ongoing health crisis had wiped Rp 85 trillion of Indonesia’s tourism revenue as of mid-July.

The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry expected a full recovery of foreign tourist arrivals by 2025, while it predicted 2.8 million to 4 million foreign visitors by year-end, a far cry from the government’s initial target of 18 million visitors.

To support the promotional initiative, Rizki said the ministry would use the help of online influencers to promote stories and tales of Indonesia's tourist destinations to lure foreign visitors.

“We would also need online influencers to market our destinations in the future. However, they should also have to tell the story behind the destination and attractions inside their promotional material to inspire visits,” she said.

Read also: Jokowi sets sights on economic recovery, structural reform in 2021 state budget

Indonesia boasted 160 million social media users as of January 2020, up 12 million from last year, according to a digital report by social media management Hootsuite and global agency We Are Social.

It will also provide training for locals at tourist attractions to become interpreters and guides, while also building supporting infrastructure, such as placards and signage, which will tell the location’s stories. The stories should be educational while still enticing, she said.

“Our first step will be building the story for the destinations. Then, we will train the locals on how to tell stories and interpret the meaning of those stories to tourists,” she said.

Aside from the promotional strategy, the government will also channel funding for infrastructure development in the so-called super priority tourist destinations, namely Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Borobudur in Central Java, Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara and Likupang in North Sulawesi, according to Jokowi’s speech.

Gadjah Mada University (UGM) head of master and doctoral programs in tourism studies, M. Baiquni, told the Post on Tuesday that the government’s storynomics idea could lure corporate and high-end tourists in the future.

“I think knowledge-based tourism, which was previously described as storynomics, could be transformed into a comprehensive tourism product that would improve the quality of travelers’ experience,” he said.

He added that travel companies could also work together with academia to provide deep knowledge and interpretations of the tourist destinations for high-end tourists.

Baiquni said the government could learn from Amsterdam’s canal tour in the Netherlands regarding knowledge-based tourism, which extends tourists' spending and length of stay.

“In the Amsterdam canal tour, tourists are provided audio with multiple language options that tell the history of the surrounding areas and building. Those tourists can visit the area by themselves and thus increase the chance of them spending more while extending their visits,” he said.