Offering visa-free travel is one of the easiest ways to boost tourist numbers."
Denpasar (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has offered visa-free travel for tourists from more group of countries, hoping to lure in more visitors and boost the country tourism sector.

Currently tourists from 174 countries are no longer need visa to visit Indonesia.

The latest group of countries offered the facility include Australia, Brazil, Ukraine, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Palestine, Honduras, Pakistan, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, Uruguay, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Albania, Mozambique, Macedonia, El Salvador, Zambia, Moldova, Madagascar, Georgia, Namibia, Kiribati, Armenia, Bolivia, Bhutan, Guatemala, Mauritania, and Paraguay.

"Offering visa-free travel is one of the easiest ways to boost tourist numbers," Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has said.

Indonesia hopes to chalk up 20 million visits by foreign tourists in 2019 or doubling the 2015s record.

Visa-free travel will only be available through five international airports in Jakarta, Medan, Batam, Bali and Surabaya, and would come with tighter monitoring to minimize misuse of the facility, a government official has said, adding foreign tourists found smuggling illegal goods, such as drugs, would face serious penalties.

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has repeatedly said the visa free travel is offered to boost the countrys tourism industry.

In answer to critics about the negative impact of the policy especially on the state security, Jokowi said all policies have both positive and negative impacts.

He pointed to Singapore and Malaysia which adopted similar policy to more than 170 countries and they have no security problem.

The two smaller country have succeeded in luring much more foreign tourists than Indonesia has.

Based on data at the Tourism Ministry, foreign tourist visits to Indonesia totaled 10.41 million exceeding the target of 10 million in 2015 or a 7.2 percent increase from the previous year.

The 2015 annual growth was higher than the worlds average growth of 4.4 percent and ASEAN growth of 6 percent. In 2016, the target for the number of foreign tourists was set at 12 million.

"The Indonesian growth rate was much better than those of ASEAN rivals - Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand," Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said.

In 2015, the country earned US$11.9 billion from the spending by the foreign tourists with length of stay averaging 8.5 days and daily spending of US$1,190 per visit .

A lawmaker from the Commission III criticized the visa free policy saying the policy had been misused by tourists from a number of countries.

Chairman of the Working Committee for Law Enforcement of the Commission III Desmond J Mahesa said the policy has caused a loss of Rp1 trillion for the East Java Immigration office.

Desmond , from the opposition Gerindra party faction, said the visa free policy had been widely misused by job seekers from abroad.

"They renew their license for temporary stay every three months without paying expatriate tax causing a loss to the state," he said.

There was also non financial loss in threat to the state as the some of the foreign visitors could come to bring in radical ideology, and drugs, human traffic and possible espionage, he said.

Therefore, a number of Commission III lawmakers called for revision of the law on immigration to allow police to take greater role in dealing with misuse of the policy.

The lawmakers called for immediate revision after the East Java Law and Human Right office found indications of illegal entry of Chinese workers in Tuban and Lamongan, and suspected espionage by Chinese citizens in Gresik.

There are also calls for the reevaluation of the visa free policy on reports of 10 million Chinese workers in Indonesia misusing the policy.

The report, however, has been dismissed as a hoax by the president and Minister for Law and Human Right Yasona Laoly.

Yasona said the report as groundless.

"That is a hoax. We have too many hoaxes now. I would like to challenge you to show me data about 10 million foreign workers here, even 1 million illegal workers.

"The visa free travel policy is to boost the countrys tourism industry . It is an irony as big country as Indonesia rich with tourist destinations is far lagging behind smaller Malaysia in number of tourists," Yasonna told reporters in his office.

He said what is important in the implementation of the policy is good control.

"If there are 9 million arrivals , there should be 9 million departures. That is what we need to make sure," he said.

Labor Minister Hanif Dhakiri described the report as grossly exaggerating, saying there are only around 21,000 foreign workers from China holding the temporary stay license in Indonesia.

Tourism observer Ida Bagus Lolec Surakusuma said the visa free policy should be followed with more intensive promotion abroad.

"Visa free policy without promotion would not be effective in luring more foreign tourists to the country," Ida Bagus Surakusuma said in Denpasar.

Reporter: Edy M. Ya`kub & A. Saragih
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2017