Despite being the most prominent tourist attraction in Indonesia, the Land of Gods is still overshadowed by other destinations, according to some foreign tourists.
Tourists from the Middle East, for instance, prefer to visit Puncak, a mountain pass in West Java. The popular weekend destination for residents in greater Jakarta is even nicknamed "Arab Village," considering the large number of Middle East tourists visiting the location, which is famous for its tea plantation and fresh air.
The Middle East tourists interest to visit Puncak has encouraged the local people to promote their products or culinary businesses in Arabic.
"Puncak is becoming the main destination for Middle East tourists," Ziad Mzannar, a Lebanese who currently works as a chef in a Middle East restaurant in Legian, Bali, said.
He stated that Puncak has been known among Middle East communities as an obligatory tourist attraction to be visited in Indonesia.
According to him, it was quite unfortunate that people from his region have less knowledge about Bali, which he claimed was more attractive than Puncak.
Therefore, Mzanner was eager to promote Bali to his families or friends through his blog posts or conversations with his customers.
Deputy assistant for market development for Europe, Middle East, US, and Africa of the Tourism Ministry, Nia Niscaya, admitted that lack of promotion was the reason behind the fall in the number of Middle East tourists visiting Indonesia.
She noted that the promotion of Indonesian tourism in the Middle East countries still relied on the word-of-mouth method.
Tourists from Saudi Arabia, for example, visit Indonesia after being inspired by their families or colleagues who have visited the place earlier.
Given such reality, the Ministry of Tourism is looking for a more intensive approach to attract Middle East tourists, by using leaders or famous people as endorsers.
The visit of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud for a six-day vacation in Bali, along with his entourage of 1.5 thousand delegates, is regarded as a fresh wind to expand Indonesias tourism industry.
In addition to sending the message of tolerance, King Salmans visit is also expected to help boost the image of Bali as one of the major tourist destinations in Indonesia, which has all necessary aspects to host VIP state guests such as the Saudi King.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Arief Yahya also stated that King Salman was "the best endorser," taking into account his strong influence both on the people of Saudi and the Middle East nations.
Yahya expressed assurance that the kings visit to Bali would lead to a 50 percent increase in the number of Arab tourists to Bali from 240 thousand visitors in 2016 to 360 thousand this year.
The visit of Arab tourists that reached 80 percent of the total foreign tourists from Middle East countries, its gradual positive growth, and the visit of the king are estimated to transform Bali as a new favorite tourist attraction after Puncak.
The total foreign tourists visiting Indonesia are mainly from countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia Pacific.
Middle East tourists were among 30 percent of the rest of other countries, which were not included in the regions that had been mentioned.
However, the interesting fact is that Middle East tourists have a high spending power, which is almost two folds higher than that of most foreign tourists.
With an average stay of 11 days, Middle East tourists can spend as much as US$2,342 (Rp32.7 millions) per day during their holidays compared to the expenditure of other foreign tourists of around $1,200 (Rp16.8 millions) per day for an average five-day vacation.
"They mostly stay in five-star hotels and bring along their families as well as housemaids," Niscaya stated.
The Indonesian government continues to seek for improvements to boost revenues from the tourism sector, considering the huge sum of money the Middle East tourists can bring in to the countrys tourism.
Meanwhile, Saudi ambassador to Indonesia Osama bin Mohammed Abdullah al-Shuibi expressed his gratefulness and appreciation to the Indonesian people for warmly welcoming their king.
He explicitly stated that if King Salman would be pleased and satisfied over his holiday in Bali, it is likely for the king to have a similar vacation in another destination in Indonesia.
If that is so, other new destinations targeting Middle East tourist will as well emerge in the country.(*)