Based on data collected in 2015, the World Tourist Organisation (UNWTO) reported that the number of international tourists reached a staggering one billion people, or an increase of 50 million people compared to the previous year. Furthermore, the UNWTO is also projecting that tourism will continue to expand with an average increase of around 5% in each geographical reason. This goes to show that each year people are becoming more and more mobile.
In Indonesia, the tourism industry makes up a huge chunk of the country’s income where annually there’s an average of nine million tourist arrivals each year. In an effort to capitalise on a booming travel sector, the Indonesian government introduced a visa waiver program for 30 countries back in 2015. Countries that were on this list included China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Germany. More recently, Indonesia has finally granted Australian tourists the same benefit of the aforementioned countries after a prolonged diplomatic tug of war. The message? The country wants to attract as many tourists as possible by making it easier and less of a hassle to visit the country.
At the offset, some critics cited security concerns as their main reason to oppose the visa waivers. But one year on, it seems the decision to allow certain foreign nationalities to freely enter is paying dividends. Indonesia recorded a 19% increase of tourists from countries that received visa-free access in 2015. And considering Bali is a hot favourite among Australian nationals, one can expect the number of holiday-seekers to the tropical island will also increase. Australian ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson said that Indonesia’s decision to include Australia on the list is “smart and timely” and he expects to add around Rp.3,4 trillion into the country’s coffers.
While undoubtedly beneficial financially, it remains to be seen whether increasing the flow of tourists to Indonesia can really beneficial to other parties as well. The government’s reasoning is sound, considering Indonesia is left trailing by Thailand (24,8 million) and Malaysia (27,4 million) when it comes to annual tourists. However, infrastructure and the readiness of Indonesia’s tourism sector remains a big question mark looking to the future. There has been promising signs such as the extensive renovations on airports across the archipelago and the increase of flights destined for hard-to-reach places that are serviced by smaller airplanes. But there has been a lack of progress in terms of roads, public transport, and even hotel rooms.
Being one of the main tourist destinations in the country, even Bali is starting to struggle in handling the increase of tourists –specifically the worsening traffic situation and overdevelopment. Perhaps this is a reason as to why many people are wary about the visa policies because it incited a fear that the waivers may spur a wave of irresponsibility.
An influx of tourists may force local governments to act by improving the infrastructure and facilities that are catered towards tourists. Because after all, money talks, and when you have an opportunity to obtain additional income by means of tourism, it should be an idea worth considering by officials. The federal government is trying its best to attract tourists to come and visit Indonesia, but these efforts are often bottlenecked at the provincial level.
Regardless of what’s happening in the country, some Indonesians were not happy with the visa waiver policy plainly because there’s a lack of reciprocation from the select countries that made the list. The prime example for this case is Australia. Indonesian diplomats and their Australian counterparts have engaged in a discussion where both nationalities can go back and forth without the burden of a visa for years. In the end, only Australians can enjoy a visa-free visit while Indonesians still need to pay a hefty $130 fee to apply for a visa. “It’s astonishing. Then add to that we tell Indonesians to complete some 15 pages of questions per person.” Said Indonesia Institute president Ross Taylor said. “And we wonder why so many Indonesians choose to travel elsewhere on holidays.”
On the flipside, Indonesians jumped for joy when it was announced that Japan is waiving visa requirements for Indonesian citizens that already have an electronic passport (E-Passport) starting this year. Furthermore, the gesture from the Indonesian government has finally unlocked the visa waiver discussion when Indonesians are visiting Schengen States, something that was previously thought impossible –however unlikely it will come true.
As with any diplomatic decision, there are always two sides of the same coin. In the long run, the visa waivers for foreign nationals may in fact benefit Indonesia greatly because all parties in the tourism sector will need to step up their game in order to keep up with international standards and demands. And perhaps one day Indonesians can also enjoy the freedom of movement in order to explore the world.
Isidro – Spanish tourist
How is your experience with Indonesian immigration?
As a Spanish passport holder, I don’t find any hassle entering Indonesia. I only have to fill a customs form and nothing else.
Have you heard about Indonesia’s visa-free policy?
Yes, I’ve heard that but apparently it’s only applied in selected port of entries, not all entry points in the country.
Do you think this policy could work to make more tourists come to Indonesia?
I think so. It makes people easier to travel and as a tourist, I often rule out visiting certain countries due to inconvenience. Thailand has had the visa-free rule and it seems to be working wonders for them.
Any critique on the policy we have now?
The visa-free entry should be extended to all ports of entry. Otherwise, it will confuse tourists. I saw many tourists confused and angry having to pay for a visa when they arrive in certain locations that has no visa-free policy.
Kate Walton – Expat from Australia
How is your experience with Indonesian immigration?
I’m actually on a business visa here because getting a KITAS (residence permit) is almost impossible. The process is ridiculously long these days. Mine’s been in process for six months now and it’s still not finished. But my parents visited from Australia recently on the visa waiver system.
How was your parents’ experience with the visa waiver policy?
They waited nearly two hours to get through immigration. Immigration staff were very strict and asked for all sorts of documents –flight details, accommodation information, and the places they were going to visit. They official was even suspicious of my parents because they have different surnames.
Do you think it’s still a hassle for foreigners to enter Indonesia?
Definitely. The previous Visa on Arrival system was expensive ($30) but it was fairly quick and easy. This new visa waiver system should be even easier, but so far it doesn’t seem that way. It’s a great step to waive the costs, but the implementation needs to be improved. More immigration officers on duty would help, for a start.
What do you think our government should do to increase tourists coming in to Indonesia?
More officers on duty, clearer requirements, and restrictions. For example you should be able to leave at any airport, not just the ones which offer the visa waiver system. The other main thing would be to make the duration of stay longer than 30 days. If the government wants tourists to visit other places like Lombok, Danau Toba, Toraja, or Raja Ampat, the duration needs to be longer. Other countries in the region such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand offer 90 day durations without visas.
Doddy Wiraseto – Backpacker
What are your thoughts on the recent visa-waiver policy from our government?
I think it’s a great idea. Until now, we still don’t have as many foreign tourist coming to Indonesia compared to Singapore or Malaysia, and I think that’s because of the hassle to enter Indonesia. This visa-waiver policy could be a good start.
Do you think the number of tourists will increase because of this policy?
I think so, yes. But of course we still need to fix a lot of things. I heard that this visa waiver only works in select ports, so that can be confusing.
What else do you think our government should do to increase tourists in Indonesia?
Aside from improving the visa waiver policy, I think our government needs to invest more on advertising our country. Most tourists only know Bali even though we still have plenty of other tourist destinations. And they don’t know that because there’s a lack of promotions that expose these places.
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