Jakarta. Amid ongoing efforts to boost the national tourism industry, an exponential growth in Chinese tourists showcases a potential that could help the Indonesian government achieve its ambitious target of attracting 20 million foreign visitors annually by 2019.Almost 2 million Chinese tourists visited Indonesia last year, overtaking Singapore as the largest group of foreign visitors to the archipelago.
Indonesia's beaches and relatively lower costs attracted the Chinese tourists, who often include sea, spa and shopping options in their travel itineraries, the president of the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (Asita), Asnawi Bahar, told the Jakarta Globe.
Bali is still the top destination among Chinese tourists visiting Indonesia, followed by Manado in North Sulawesi, Asnawi said. "Now, they are also exploring Bangka Belitung, Batam and Mandalika as alternative destinations aside from Bali or Manado," he said.
The recently appointed Indonesian ambassador to China, Djauhari Oratmangun, aims to promote Indonesia by highlighting the country's "sun, sea, sand, smile and services" to Chinese tourists.
"By the time [they] return to China, [they] will also have satisfaction," Djauhari told reporters at an event in Jakarta in February.
Satisfied tourists will talk about their experiences back home and attract even more visitors, Djauhari added.
Over the past few decades, rapid economic development in China has helped lift millions of its citizens out of poverty and has paved ways for a flourishing middle class with more room to enjoy luxuries beyond their primary needs.
More than 130 million Chinese citizens traveled abroad in 2017, according to data compiled by China Tourism Academy (CTA) and digital travel services provider Ctrip.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said the number of outbound Chinese tourists maintained double-digit percentage growth each year from 2002 to 2013.
And these tourists travel with ample spending power. Data from UNWTO showed that China’s tourism expenditures reached $261 billion in 2016, making up 21 percent of global international tourism spending.
While being late in tapping the market Indonesia has managed to be among top five choices of destinations among Chinese travelers last year, after Thailand, Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam, according to CTA and Ctrip data.
A target for short term may be to match Singapore, which attracted 3.2 million Chinese tourists last year.
A Better Service
Vinsensius also said the archipelago is short of Mandarin-speaking certified tour guides, especially in destinations outside of Bali, Jakarta and the Riau Islands.
While the ministry hopes to address this issue through certification programs, popular accommodation choices like Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts seek to accommodate their diverse guests by employing multilingual staff.
"Four Seasons Resorts Bali employs multilingual staff including Mandarin, Japanese and Russian-speaking guest relations officers, to ensure we can provide the Four Seasons service and experience for guests from all over the world,” said Uday Rao, Four Seasons Resorts Bali’s general manager.
Four Season Hotels Jakarta also said that it employs several staff members who are fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese.
"We have specific standards to ensure that Chinese travelers have all the services and amenities available that they would typically expect," Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta general manager Christian Poda wrote in an email to the Globe.
The local unit of the US-based hotel chain said that it also has a corporate Weibo account to promote the company's brand to the Chinese market.
Aside from that, Four Seasons Jakarta also launched a chat feature in the fourth quarter last year in an effort to help guests send and receive instant messages to Four Seasons teams before, throughout and after their stay.
Asnawi of Asita said that Indonesia needs to take the Maldives as an example and start training programs for tourists before they begin their journey in the country to ease the mingling process with locals. Anti-China sentiment is still persists among Indonesians.
The training program usually lasts a day, while some countries implement these types of training sessions for three or four hours. Chinese tourists will be gathered in their hotel or other places, and tour coordinator teaches them about that country's etiquette, cultures and some basic local languages.
"We still need to educate some of the Chinese tourists. Not all of them have a tendency to shout, or putting too much food on their plate without finishing it. But some of them do this," Asnawi said.
Players in the industry have long realized that improving connectivity to any city can increase appeal to foreign tourists.
In 2016, Indonesia’s largest budget airline operator Lion Air Group began operating direct flights between Manado and a number of Chinese cities, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu. More than a year later, 7,000 Chinese tourists arrive in Manado per month, more than double the arrivals in 2016, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.
However, getting to the archipelago is still a deterrent for some Chinese tourists.
"Direct flights are still very minimal, especially compared to rival destination countries," the Tourism Ministry's director for Asia Pacific tourism promotions, Vinsensius Jemadu, told the Globe, in reference to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
For example, there are 137 weekly flights from Bangkok and 56 weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai, compared to 14 flights weekly between Bali and Shanghai, according to online travel company Cleartrip.
Lion Air plans to open 20 new routes between China and Indonesia this year, as part of the group’s strategy to bring 2.5 million foreign tourists to Indonesia, Daniel Putut Kuncoro, Lion Air Group managing director, told the Globe. Those include links between Jakarta, Denpasar, Lombok and Batam with Chinese cities of Changsha, Qingdao, Xi’an and Yinchuan.
National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia serves direct flights between Indonesia and China, including to and from cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.