Is Indonesia Suffering an Identity Crisis?

Java is underpinned by some of the worlds most important Buddhist and Hindu Cultural Treasures

Indonesia is a potential tourism powerhouse in South East Asia, and yet it does not tell this story successfully to the broader world. A country of contrast, and a “paradise” which has captured the imagination of many foreign visitor in the past 400 years, Indonesia is however not just a land of beaches, palm trees, batik and bintang, it is much, much more. Guide book to Indonesia will tell you of the glorious beaches in Bali, and some of the cultural treasures that exist in small villages in far flung places. Travel Agents will tell you of the fantastic resort accommodation and luxury that can be experienced in Bali and possibly Lombok. Newspapers in the western world will tell you of the imminent threat of terrorism and the extreme fundamentalist Islamic views that are a threat to your safety. The marketing of Indonesia doesn’t add to this impression, with images of Bali beaches, batik shirts and cultural trinkets often at the forefront of the advertising and marketing sales pitch for Indonesia. Indonesia has much more to sell, and in broader locations than the traditional tourist hub of Bali.

Is this the image that Indonesia wants to portray to the world?

The answer to this question is of course yes and no. The importance of tourism to Indonesia cannot be underestimated, but at present it is concentrated upon one area – Bali. In 2010 there will be more than 600,000 Australian Tourists travel to Bali for a holiday which will last for an average 10 days. The number of Australian tourists travelling to Bali are at an all-time high, and this is despite the Australian Government Travel Warnings , which I have discussed in a previous post (The Politics of Travel Warnings: http://wp.me/pS6DN-4h). But despite these huge numbers, Indonesia is missing a great tourism opportunity. Indonesian Culture is heavily influenced by Javanese Culture, and Javanese Culture is probably best exemplified by Yogyakarta. This is Central Javanese heartland and is surrounded by highly significant cultural and archaeological sites, palaces and temples. Yogyakarta is to Indonesia, what Siem Reap and Angkor is to Cambodia in a Cultural sense….but it does not have the same profile, nor does it have the substantial tourist infrastructure to bring in the substantial tourism investment. Yogyakarta has two World Heritage Sites within an hours’ drive from the centre of the city: Borobudur, which is an 8th Century Buddhist temple complex, and Prambanan an 8th Century Hindu and Buddhist temple complex. In addition to these temples are another 3-5 other important Hindu and Buddhist temples in various stages of disrepair, and rebuild. Beyond Yogyakarta to the east of Surakarta (Solo), are the last two Hindu temples of the Majahpit Kingdom in Java: Candi Ceto and Candi Sukuh. These two temples are an easy day trip from Yogyakarta. These temples are significant to the history of south east asia and Indonesia, yet there are relatively few tourists who visit these important sites. How many people outside of Indonesia are truly conscious of these important cultural sites?

Grand Indonesia is one of the many luxury shopping palaces in Jakarta

In addition to the tourism opportunities in Yogyakarta there are great opportunities for expanding eco-tourism in Indonesia, through jungle tours, or scuba diving tourist resorts. Scuba diving resorts in Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia and Thailand all successfully promote scuba diving resorts and subsequently bring in substantial tourist money which is spent in the local economies an especially in remote communities. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for Indonesia’s great coral reefs and the scuba diving opportunities? The final piece in this tourism puzzle is Jakarta. It has a relatively bad reputation compared to other cities in South East Asia, but this reputation is unfounded to a large extent. Jakarta is a happening city that is vibrant, and exclusive and a shopping paradise. Every time I see an advertisement for Malaysia : Truly Asia, It reminds me of Jakarta. Jakarta is a city full of upmarket shopping malls, exclusive hotels, and clean streets. At night the trendy people all come out and go to the best restaurants, people drive around in Mercedes, and wear the latest European designer clothes.

Indonesia is truly a modern emerging economy and Jakarta is the most advanced and modern city in its crown. The Key to Indonesia’s future success is for its identity to be clarified to allow the world to discover the tourism wonder of opportunities that exist beyond Bali, Batik and Bintang. Get the identity right and the economic advantages will flow.

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