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A Lack of Legislative Understanding

Chief of Tourism Think Tank Points to Thailand in Demonstrating the Failure of Indonesian Policy Makers' Approach to Tourism Issues.

(9/27/2004) According to Pontjo Sutowo, the Chairman of the Indonesian Tourism Think Tank (MPI), almost 90% of Indonesian economists and legislators have no understanding of tourism resulting in policies that fail to coordinate the activities of the various components of the tourism industry and preserve national competitiveness.

Quoted by the Indonesian-language bisnis.com, Sutowo claims, "the result of the lack of serious attention from the government in efforts to restore tourism's health have caused losses of US$ 6 billion over the past 8 years."

According to Sutowo Thailand and Indonesia in 1996 both generated foreign exchange from tourism equal to US$ 6 billion. However, by the year 2000, Thailand was producing US$ 10 billion while Indonesia corresponding figure was only US$ 4 billion. This is particularly ironic, in Sutowo's view, given the fact Thailand's focus on increasing tourism was driven by a regional economic crisis originating in Thailand, while Indonesia was only a secondary player in that crisis.

Sutowo suggests Indonesia's failure to protect and promote the competitiveness of its tourism product may be due to the inability of economists and legislators to understand the effects and benefits of tourism. He feels that the potential role and contribution of tourism is not appreciated, a situation that is perhaps the result of the tourism industry's inability to convince legislators of tourism's central importance to the national economy.

In explaining Indonesia's relative lack of competitiveness, Sutowo points to Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong where the head of each nation directly intervenes in preserving tourism's position. For example, during the SARS crisis, the Governor of Hong Kong invited international tourism experts to Hong Kong to help in the tourism economy recovery. Accordingly, increasing Indonesia's international competitiveness in tourism matters warrants serious attention from the new administration.

"This is the problem: tourism must get serious attention from all parties, including tourism players, to convince the Government that tourism matters. Let the economist look at the concrete evidence so they can understand that tourism is an alternative that can be relied upon in the wake of diminishing natural resources," said Sutowo.