Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO): Interview

Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)

Interview: Taleb Rifai

What are the main recommendations for Indonesia to increase its annual number of tourists?

TALEB RIFAI: Indonesia has been showing an extraordinary performance in international tourism. In little over a decade the number of international tourists visiting Indonesia has doubled, surpassing 10m for the first time in 2015. These results are the consequence of a policy which includes a visa-free regime for 169 countries and strong diversification of products and destinations. The initial success of Indonesia can be attributed largely to Bali. With its exotic and unique culture comprising ancient temples, traditional dances and rich gastronomy, along with beautiful landscapes and exciting lifestyles, Bali has been called the country’s most visitor-friendly island. With this strong foundation, Indonesia has embarked upon marketing its other destinations in its source markets, thus capitalising on its cultural heritage and natural resources in places such as Jakarta, Komodo, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Batam Island – a strategy we believe should continue into the future.

Furthermore, key to the success of any tourism destination is to place sustainability at the heart of its policy, while also harnessing the latest technological innovation to ensure that as tourism in a destination grows, the sustainability of the local environment and its communities is ensured. Indonesia can make technology its ally and maximise the new opportunities that growth in tourism will provide to manage natural resources more efficiently, while it can also effectively preserve the values and cultures of each of the areas undergoing tourism development.

How can Bali’s success positively impact tourism in other areas of the country?

RIFAI: Bali’s high quality standards in human resources can be used as the benchmark for the training of tourism workers in other areas, as well as the promotion of exchange programmes between destinations. Another highlight of Bali’s success in tourism human resource development is the government requirement for all resort development initiatives to recruit local talent. This can be easily replicated in the ongoing government development programme for other tourism clusters.

How can Indonesia take advantage of its increased budget for tourism promotion?

RIFAI: This needs to be done by investing in research and marketing studies to analyse Indonesia’s competitive advantage, while also ensuring targeted and effective marketing of customers through the use of big data to provide people with the experiences they desire. It is also important to invest in media partnerships, taking media and influencers to Indonesia to see and communicate its wonders.

What should the country do to capitalise on the growing international cruise market?

RIFAI: Many opportunities come from intra-regional traffic of north-east Asian nations, such as China, South Korea and Japan, which have non-conventional cruise traffic zones. More specifically, a recent UNWTO report on this subject recommended a comprehensive analysis to assess the full implications, opportunities and planning needs for Bali to accommodate cruise tourism growth without degrading its local infrastructure and heritage. Additionally, the overnight visitor should not be displaced. The supply of lodging, food and beverages, and activities for the overnight visitor provides many opportunities and may generate higher spend per passenger.

Sumatra is largely undeveloped and is viewed as having cruise tourism potential. However, its ports are not prioritised for development by the government, even though the island is a prime target for development in the luxury and premium segments – the main focus of Indonesia’s cruise tourism.

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