Yet its tourism development is still behind those of neighboring countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Hence, the government is committed to advance the countrys tourism by developing 10 major tourist destinations. In addition, Indonesia, which was visited by about 12 million foreign tourists in 2016, has set a target to attract some 15 million foreign tourist arrivals this year and about 20 million by 2019.
However, the government has to provide better transportation facilities, including direct flights from tourist potential countries, to reach tourism destinations in different regions, apart from popular destinations such as Bali and Yogyakarta.
Moreover, Indonesia still needs some 2 million more flight seats to meet its target of 15 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2017.
"We need 2 million more seats this year. We cannot compete with Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam (in attracting) Chinese tourists. We do not have direct flights from India, and from China, we have only three or four (direct flights)," Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said on Friday (April 7).
According to Arief, demand from potential markets in Asia and Europe has continued to increase by an estimated 3 million tourists.
"The demand is still huge. We should not be worried about demand because it is still possible to set an additional target of 3 million (foreign tourists)," he added.
If Indonesia is able to advance its tourism in various regions, then it will need to increase the number of its direct flights from tourist countries.
The problem is that airlines have to consider the load factor in order to open direct flights in the current conditions. This is one of the factors why airlines are still thinking twice about opening direct flights from abroad to various regions in the country.
Yet, the national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia was bold enough to open the Manado (North Sulawesi)-China direct flight. It is now preparing a regular flight for the Manado-China route after seeing the huge potential of passengers from China.
"We are exploring the opening of the new Manado-China direct flights," Garuda Manager for Manado Branch Office Donald Jerry said in Manado on Thursday (March 31). Garuda is promoted to open the flight route after witnessing the rise in tourist arrivals from China to North Sulawesi, particularly Manado.
The flight to China has huge potential and is expected to promote North Sulawesi, especially its tourism sector. Before opening the regular Manado-China flights, Garuda will build intra Sulawesi connectivity by providing a route from Manado to various cities in Sulawesi and surrounding islands.
"In future, anyone who is to travel to China need not go to Jakarta first. He or she can directly fly from Manado to China. Therefore, Manado will serve as a hub," remarked Jerry.
Apart from Bali, the other region in the country which has been linked with direct flights to foreign countries is West Sumatra. West Sumatra has asked for a Singapore-Padang direct flight in addition to the Padang-Malaysia direct flight route.
According to Oni Yulfian, the head of West Sumatras Tourism Service, additional direct flights would help the country achieve its target of 15 million foreign tourist arrivals this year.
Earlier, the West Sumatran regional government has proposed additional direct flight that would link Padang, provincial capital of West Sumatra, with Singapore. However, the proposal is yet to be complied.
"If the number of direct flights is not increased, it would be difficult to significantly raise the number of foreign tourist arrivals," noted Yulfian.
After all, Indonesia would still need two million more flight seats for prospective foreign tourists, to reach its target of 15 million foreign tourist visits to the country.
The lack of flight slots, as well as direct flights from tourist potential countries, such as China and India, have become crucial factors that would hamper efforts to reach the target, according to Minister Arief Yahaya who visited the state-run flight navigation services Airnav Indonesia in Tangerang, Banten, on Friday (April 7).
Furthermore, in expanding direct flights, the government should also upgrade domestic and international airports to support its program of 10 main tourist destination development. .
The ten prioritized tourism destinations consisted of Lake Toba (North Sumatra), Belitung (Bangka Belitung), Tanjung Lesung (Banten), Seribu Islands (Jakarta), Borobudur Temple (Central Java), Mount Bromo (East Java), Mandalika Lombok (West Nusa Tenggara), Komodo Island (East Nusa Tenggara), Wakatobi National Park (Southeast Sulawesi), and Morotai (North Maluku).
In this case, the government should expand direct flights and increase its flight slots to cover its need for more two million fight seats.
For this purpose, Minister Yahya has asked operators, including airline, airport operator, as well as flight navigators, to grab the opportunity as 80 percent of foreign tourists would use air transportation.
Airnav Indonesia, he continued, has played a significant role in supporting the effort to boost foreign tourist visits to Indonesia, by increasing flight slots.
"We know that Airnav has played a key role in air connectivity rights, therefore we would find a solution to reach this two million visitors target," he said.
Therefore, the minister encouraged the use of technology to increase the number of flight slots and arrivals of foreign tourists. Flight slots are very important for increasing flight frequencies, especially for international flights.
Limited flight slots would hamper flights to Indonesia, domestic or international, whereas Indonesia still lacks two million seats to fly foreign tourists to reach the 15 million target.
"We have to make business transformation, one of which is using technology," the minister said. According to him, if the flight frequency is increased to two, income could reach Rp250 billion per annum and can raise the arrivals of foreign tourists by one million to 1.5 million.
"With the assumption that one tourist would spend US$1,000, the country will earn some Rp13 trillion in foreign exchange per annum," the minister said.(*)