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Editorial: A Humble Defense of Backpackers

Quoted by many mainstream national media, including, the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who also serves as the National COVID-19 Czar, said that in the future, Indonesian tourism wants to focus on quality foreign tourists and ban international “backpackers.”

Follow-up reporting to Minister Luhut’s comments states that Indonesian Immigration officials would soon screen foreign nationals applying for tourist visas, screening out those determined to be “low quality” backpackers. Luhut continued: “We will filter arriving tourists. We don’t want backpackers coming to a clean Bali. We want (only) quality visitors.”

With due respect to Minister Luhut, who is doing a masterful job in combatting COVID-19, there’s abundant authoritative evidence that his reasoning may be flawed when it comes to the youth and backpacker tourism sectors.

The United Nation’s World Trade Organization (WTO) has done extensive research on the potential economic and strategic value of backpackers and their fellow travelers classed as “the youth market” – those comprised of “generation y” (millennials, born between 1980 and 2000) and “generation z” (born after 2000).  

Moreover, a solid case can be made that the “youth market,” given its size and market potential, is the market segment best suited to help Indonesia develop its national tourism goals, especially the desire to encourage tourism development in remote, underdeveloped areas, such as the much-touted “10 New Bali’s.”

In examining the youth market and its significant backpacker component, we hope Minister Luhut and the Minister of Tourism and the Creative Economy, Sandiaga Uno, will consider some of the following:

Indonesian Backpackers

Pak Luhut and Pak Sandiaga – the leaders plotting the course of future tourism in Indonesia will hopefully not fail to notice that the Indonesian members of “Generation X” and “Generation Y” have markedly different travel tastes from their parents. Young Indonesians are now among the world’s most gadget-savvy, eager to learn, share, and influence social media. Very much unlike their parents, many young Indonesian are also “backpackers” who grab their wallets, ATM cards, shorts, and a backpack to explore the endless wonders and cultural diversity of Tanah Airku Indonesia.

We hope that with his stated disdain for backpackers, Minister Luhut will not someday discover he has thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

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