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Editorial: The Best Use of Promotional Funds

With Little Funds to Promote Tourism, the Best Place to Spend May be at Home.

(11/24/2002) The events of October 12th have fueled the long-standing public debate on the need for Indonesia to spend money in promoting its national tourism product and the need to prevent further erosion of foreign tourist arrival figures. In the midst of competing destinations in the region spending as much as $100 million annually to attract foreign visitors, Indonesia ponders endlessly about spending a fraction of that amount to help restore its national tourism image.

Sadly, talk as opposed to action seems to to remain the order of the day with little evidence of a promised $35 million in tourism promotional funds materializing in any form that will persuade the tourism sector of the government's seriousness of intent in reviving tourism's fortunes.

Overlooking the Obvious?

Without discounting the need for a well conceived and properly orchestrated international media campaign, the cheapest and most cost-effective means of kick-starting the national tourism industry may be more readily at hand.

Hotels, tourism attractions, and Indonesian inbound tour operators are all reeling under the fallout and financial impact of the October 12th terrorist attack on a Kuta night spot. Already struggling during the prolonged business drought precipitated by the 1998 multi-dimensional political and financial crisis, the most recent blow visited upon Indonesia by the October bombing has seen tourism operators compelled to further reduce staff numbers and cut back their meager budgets for promotional activities. For many of these operators, already living on the brink of extinction, there's little "fat" left for them to cut short of taking the climactic step of permanently hanging a "Closed" sign on their front doors.

Against this background we suggest that the most efficient and cost-effective tool available to the Government in their efforts to restore vitality to its tourism products is via a program of direct subsidies to all Indonesian tourism operators participating at international travel fairs. If all or part of the average US$ 2,500 - 4,000 it costs Indonesian tourism operators to rent a stand at major travel exhibitions could be reimbursed, this single act would have the most immediate and lasting impact on getting tourism arrival numbers once again flowing through the Nation's major gateways.

In considering our suggestion, we submit the following:

The Indonesian tourism product is overwhelmingly driven by wholesale travel - packages and tours sold in the brochures of the world's major tour operators. Product and space in these brochures are negotiated at major travel exhibitions such as World Travel Mart (WTM), ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), PATA Mart, IT&CMA, and AIME.

Indonesia's best travel salespeople are already employed by the nation's hotels, tourism attractions, and tour operators. Because of the dire economic straits of the Nation's travel industry, this vast reservoir of talent sits idle and untapped back home in Indonesia when they should be actively participating in travel exhibitions abroad. By subsidizing the appearance of these people at major travel exhibitions Indonesia would be putting its most talented front line promoters in direct contact with the key decision makers in international travel.

Unlike some other uses of promotional funds, government-provided subsidies to Indonesian participants at travel exhibitions would never be wasted. Travel operators would still have to find substantial amounts of money to cover air travel, accommodation, and the cost of promotional material associated with their appearance at travel shows. Thus, even in the face of generous subsidies, travel operators will not fail to take an aggressive, result-oriented approach before committing to join a travel exhibition.

Large Indonesian delegations at major travel shows create a special presence and impetus for the Indonesian travel product, creating new markets and market confidence along the way.

The cost of subsidizing participation by all Indonesian operators at major travel exhibitions for an entire year is relatively small, the equivalent of a very modest international ad campaign of a few advertisements on CNN.

Without the type of financial support suggested, it will likely take several years before Indonesian travel operators have the financial capability to join these international events, further delaying the return to full health of the national tourism industry.

We admit our suggestion of direct financial support to travel operators wishing to participate at international travel shows and exhibitions is exceedingly straightforward and simple. And, yes, it also lacks the pizzazz of a slick TV commercial campaign or a well orchestrated boondoggle of legislators on an international study tour.

But for what such an approach misses in glamour, it makes up for in the simple common senses of getting those people most able to sell the Indonesian travel product back on the road doing what they do best.