"We are optimistic that the target of 365,000 foreign tourists."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Many art and cultural attractions will boost the government's "Visit Medan Year 2012" initiative to attract as many foreign tourists as possible to Medan, the gateway to other tourism attractions in North Sumatra.

The provincial capital city of Medan has magnificent historical sites and many interesting places for tourists to visit.

In a bid to attract tourists and support Visit Medan Year 2012, the Medan city administration will organise many art and cultural performances, including a Baronsai (lion dance) Festival at Sera Guna stadium in Medan on June 23-24.

Medan Culture and Tourism Office spokesman Agus Suriono said six countries would take part in the Barongsai Festival.

"To date, six countries Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Indonesia have confirmed their participation," he stated in Medan on Friday.

According to Agus, the Barongsai Festival is among the many art and cultural performances that will be organised by the Medan city administration in a bid to support Visit Medan Year 2012.

Barongsai is a large dragon-like puppet measuring between four and six metres, which is manned by three or four dancers.

The dancer who controls the head of the Barongsai must be well trained in kung fu, because the dance steps are similar to kung fu movements.

Performers must have great strength and endurance when using the larger dragons, because the massive puppets can weigh up to several hundred kilogrammes.

Besides the Barongsai Festival, Agus said, art and cultural attractions from eight ethnic groups in North Sumatra would be showcased along with the traditional dances of Malay, Batak, Mandailing, Simalungun, and Nias.

The culture and tourism office of Medan would also sponsor the Bakcang festival, Melayu Agung cultural festival, and the antique vehicle show.

Agus explained that the various art and cultural performances would be staged as part of Visit Medan Year 2012 in order to attract as many domestic and foreign tourists as possible to the capital of North Sumatra province.

In addition to increasing the number of tourists, the Medan city government also aims at maintaining and preserving the local art and culture.

"We are optimistic that thousands of domestic and foreign tourists will come to see the Barongsai Festival and other cultural attractions," Agus stated.

He said the Medan city government had set itself a target to attract at least 200,000 tourists in 2012.

Meanwhile, North Sumatra Provincial Culture and Tourism Office Chief Naruddin Dalimunthe said the number of foreign tourists visiting the province this year could reach 365,000.

According to Naruddin, the visit of foreign tourists to the province in 2012 has shown an upward trend. Therefore, he expressed optimism that the target of 365,000 tourists could be reached.

"With Visit Medan Year, we are optimistic that the target of 365,000 foreign tourists can be reached at the end of 2012," Naruddin said.

In January 2012, 18,139 foreign tourists visited North Sumatra, while in February the numbers dropped to 17,540. Then, in March, there was a significant increase in the number of tourists, with 22,123 visitors to the province.

However, according to hotel managers in Medan, Visit Medan Year 2012 is unlikely to contribute significantly to the hotel occupancy rates in the city.

"Visit Medan Year 2012 lacks promotion and preparation, so it is unlikely to attract a great number of tourists to Medan and North Sumatra," Madani Hotel General Manager Dedi Nelson Fachrurrozy said.

He stated that the local Culture and Tourism Office should have promoted the programme better to attract domestic and foreign tourists.

Dedi said the promotions for Visit Medan Year 2012 should have begun a year in advance.

"With consistent promotion through the media in provinces across the country and abroad, the domestic and foreign tourists would have better knowledge about the events to be held during Visit Medan Year," he explained.

Meanwhile, Medan Culture and Tourism Office Chief Busyral Manan stated that the North Sumatran government needed more than Rp17 billion from the regional budget to fund Visit Medan Year 2012.

He said the funds would be allocated for the promotion of tourism through meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE).

Hajizi, the head of the North Sumatra statistics office, noted that 169 US tourists visited the province in January this year, but their numbers fell to 135 in February.

This, he added, resulted in 304 US tourists visiting North Sumatra in the first two months of 2012, dropping 59.68 percent from 754 during the same period in the previous year.

"The drop in the number of US tourist arrivals is apparently the result of the lingering economic crisis in the country," Hajizi said in Medan recently.

Meanwhile, local tourism observer Henry Hutabarat noted that Malaysian and European visitors dominated tourist arrivals in North Sumatra.

Therefore, the drop in the number of US tourists should make local tourist operators to aggressively promote Visit Medan Year 2012.

However, Consumer Protection Advocacy Agency (LAPK) Director Farid Wajdi said the Visit Medan Year 2012 programme was wasteful because it was neither promoted well nor supported with adequate infrastructure.

"In order to avoid further wastage, Visit Medan Year must be promoted in a professional way," Farid added.

He said Medan had a significant opportunity to attract a great number of domestic and foreign tourists.

Reporter: Otniel Tamindael
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2012