Digital Marketing To Boost Tourism


JANUARY 05, 2015

 Indonesia’s newly appointed tourism minister wants to boost the sector via the Internet. JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal (EPA Photo/Narong Sangnak)

Jakarta. Tourist arrivals grew throughout 2014 but still remain a mere shadow of those for regional competitors Malaysia and Thailand. Now newly appointed Tourism Minister Arief Yahya will use the experience gained from his background in telecommunications to multiply the impact of the country’s tourism marketing endeavors.

Arief is upbeat on promoting digital marketing via the Internet to boost the country’s tourism sector.

In his outlook for 2015, the minister said the digital approach has the capacity to reach out to more people and persuade them to visit the country.

“We will still use the conventional way [of marketing] but it will be complemented with the digital approach. Improvement of soft infrastructure is cheaper and easier compared to improving hard infrastructure such as building new roads,” he told GlobeAsia.

“We are preparing a corporate strategy to make everybody happy. I will seek help from [state telecommunication company] Telkom to provide Wi-Fi facilities at all top [tourism destinations],” he said.

Arief Yahya, Indonesia's tourism minister. (Photo courtesy of Telkom)

According to the former Telkom chief executive, who was President Joko Widodo’s choice from several candidates to head the Tourism Ministry, Indonesia needs to promote festivals and interesting events that can engage tourists directly in cultural activities if it wants to boost tourist arrivals to 20 million — an increase of 127 percent from present levels — by 2019.

Hermawan Kartajaya, the founder and president of MarkPlus, a leading marketing professional service firm, believes the target for tourist arrivals is feasible, especially if tourists can get the true taste of Indonesia by being involved directly in events and activities that at the moment are hard to find.

“Efforts to improve infrastructure, roads, airports and others will be useless without this,” Hermawan said.

Differentiation is an essential part of tourism branding and each region should offer its own unique culture through a festival, he said.

“Through festivals, tourists would be able to get three elements: enjoyment, experience and enrichment. Good festivals should woo tourists with all the elements they offer,” Hermawan said, citing three satisfaction levels: “OK,” “aha” and “wow.”

Yanti Sukamdani, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI), agreed that it was important to hold events in many cities.

“We can promote sports events such as the Jakarta Marathon or cultural events such as the Jember Festival. However, these sort of events need to be held in various other regions as well,” Yanti said.

Hermawan praised Arief’s move to take advantage of digital technology to promote the country’s potential, saying that it is a small initiative that could bring a quick win.

“Given his background, Arief is well aware of the importance of e-tourism and digital promotions,” Hermawan said.

Improving the country’s infrastructure will take at least three years while digital marketing can be done in a shorter period and with a wider reach, the marketing guru said.

The iWOW app Elaborating on his programs, Arif is launching an e-tourism promotion, which includes an application called iWOW that  provides information on tourism spots across the archipelago, flights, hotel rooms, how to get to places and promotions.

The application also enables tourists to share their travel experiences with other users and is expected to become an effective promotional tool. It can be downloaded on smartphones and is offered in several languages: Indonesian, English, Chinese and Japanese.

The ministry is working with inTouch Innovate Indonesia and MarkPlus Center for Tourism & Hospitality to release the application.

“The iWOW concept is a low-cost high-impact marketing tool,” Hermawan boasts.

Yanti agreed that digital marketing is an effective and low-cost marketing tool but added that it could backfire if the government does not support it with sufficient infrastructure and accessibility.

“The government has to pay attention to flight frequencies, seat capacity, connectivity, and accessibility because it could backfire if all those aren’t ready. We can’t just promote our tourism potential and then leave tourists disappointed due to lack of infrastructure,” she said.

Regulations to go To achieve his target of 20 million tourist arrivals in the country by 2019, Arief will revise regulations considered to have stalled growth and encourage investment in the sector. His first step is to offer a visa-free facility to citizens from five countries as of 2015: Australia, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia.

“We will revise several regulations that have [become a] hindrance in order to improve services in tourism, including one that’s related to tourists’ visas. If the visa-free [regulation] is in place, we’ll be able to increase tourist arrivals by up to 10 percent with just this one regulation,” Arief said.

“I will also revise regulations to improve services. Tourists feel more comfortable with good services and that will increase visits to Indonesia. This would eventually also increase our foreign exchange,” the minister added.

With improved services and infrastructure, Indonesia will improve its tourism competitiveness ranking from number 70 in the world to enter the top 30. That would mean the sector could contribute up to Rp 240 trillion ($19 billion) or 8 percent of gross domestic product by 2019, up from Rp 120 trillion and 4.2 percent currently.

Hermawan agreed that the visa-free policy could serve as an effective measure to increase tourist arrivals.

“It’s too bad we’ve only been able to attract some 800,000 Chinese tourists to the country,” he said, pointing to one area where numbers can grow dramatically.

Yanti meanwhile said the government should start promoting other tourist destinations as Indonesia is blessed with vast tourism potential. Eastern Indonesia in particular offers much for marine tourism. The Tourism Ministry can support the program by developing marine tourism, especially in regions such as dive havens Derawan (East Kalimantan), Wakatobi (Southeast Sulawesi), Raja Ampat (West Papua) and others, she said.

That means Indonesia needs more ports for passengers, hotels and restaurants to accommodate tourists, according to Arief.

“We should have ports that can accommodate cruise ships. When we talk about building ports, we should also talk about hotels and restaurants near the ports.”

Yanti adds that the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) sector is prospective. But, she stresses, that will require training.

“MICE should be handled by professionals. It’s important to have people with the skills and expertise to handle MICE,” she said.

Investment Indonesia needs to invest in hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and recreation centers in order to attract more tourists to the country, Arief said.

Speaking to GlobeAsia on the sidelines of the signing of a memorandum of understanding at Indonesia Tourism Investment Day (ITID) in Jakarta recently, he said more opportunities were needed to bring together investors, both domestic and foreign, and regional governments to discuss opportunities.

The minister added that during his first week in office he had already sent letters to the ministers of transportation and public works with a list of 88 strategic tourism areas in Indonesia that need the government’s support.

“Investment in tourism is better than in manufacturing, including automotive,” Arief argued, because it creates more jobs. Investment in the tourism sector should not only be offered to investors but also to government institutions.

Based on GlobeAsia research, Indonesia still needs 120,000 hotel rooms, 15,000 restaurants and 10,000 travel agents. It also needs 300 world-class theme parks, 2,000 diving operators, 100 ports and various other supporting tourism facilities. That provides plenty of opportunity for investors.

Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) chairman Franky Sibarani, who attended the MoU signing, said he hoped the tourism sector could continue to grow and attract global attention.

Globe Asia