The Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced last week that the slogan "Visit Indonesia 2008 Ė Celebrating 100 Years of Nation's Awakening" is going to be quickly revamped. No doubt, this decision is accompanied by no small amount of panic as airplane fuselages must repainted, letterheads reprinted, brochures reformatted and republished, and television adverts re-edited before January 1, 2008 when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is scheduled to officially inaugurate the Visit Indonesia Year 2008 (VIY 2008) promotion.
Meanwhile, the international press, together with many members of Indonesia's tourism industry, are wondering how Indonesia managed to find itself in such an embarrassing and potentially expensive position.
The current imbroglio of "bad advertising copy" traces back to a decision to link VIY 2008 with the 100th anniversary of Boedi Oetomo - a movement deemed by the program's innovators as the start of Indonesia's "national awakening.".
While the sense of nationalism behind the current promotional program is laudable, the suggestion is that the creator's of the VIY 2008 tourism promotion logo may be ill-informed and inexpert on matters both a grammatical and historical level.
Some Indonesian historicans point out that Boedi Oetomo was, in fact, an elitist movement restricted to East Javanese and Madurese aristocrats dedicated to seeking personal parity in educational rights and privileges then enjoyed by Dutch colonialists. With Boedi Oetomo judged not to be nationalistic in its platform and goals, these same historians point to the founding of Syarikat Islam (1905) and the Sumpah Pemuda movement (1928) as points in history more appropriately signaling nationalistic aspirations for a future Indonesian Republic.
Against this background, quckly announced plans by Thamrin Bachri, the Director General of Marketing for Indonesian tourism to change the sloppy slogan to "Celebrating 100 years of national awakening" is wrought with danger in failing to address the historical debate surrounding linking "national awakening" and the year 1908.
There is No Easy Fix
No less than former head of the Indonesian Tourism Promotion Board and a retired official of Ministry Tourism and Telecommunication, Wuryastuti Sunario, told Balidiscovery.com: "the term 'national awakening' is also wrong, because in 1908, the Boedi Oetomo movement was aimed at fighting for equal education for ethnic Indonesians as given to Dutch citizens. At that time there was no concept as yet to create the Indonesian nation...It was only in 1928 with the 'Sumpah Pemuda' that Indonesians envisaged the birth of the Indonesian 'nation' through the Youth pledge: 'Satu Nusa, Satu Bangsa, Satu Bahasa' : One Country, one nation, one language'".
Given these historical and grammatical obstacles, it will be extremely problematical to "fix" the current VIY 2008 logo, also raising questions on how much of the Nation's precious tourism promotion budget will have to be spent to correct this error.
Perhaps the most effective solution offered to date is to consider losing the by-line completely and going solely with "Visit Indonesia Year 2008."
The current fiasco surrounding this poorly executed tourism marketing campaigns has drawn widespread criticism in the international and national media on how Indonesia promotes its tourism fortunes, including rebukes from the Financial Times (who broke the story), Associated Press, and International Herald Tribune.
Speaking to the Jakarta Press, Bachri defended the work of his team and advertising agency saying: "Our colleagues tried their best not to be reckless in creating the slogan, I'm sure. But we have been advised by several people to change the slogan."
Because the historical link between "national awakening" and the 1908 Boedi Oetomo movement is, at very best, tenuous and that little fanfare or ceremony accompanies the commemoration of the movement's founding; the linking of VIY 2008 to what is largely a little celebrated and largely not understood historical date is surprising.
TV Commercials Questioned
This latest faux pas in promoting national tourism has also given the press pause to question the wisdom of the country's tourism TV marketing. The Financial Times said: "The accompanying television adverts are equally incomprehensible. They feature young men jumping over a stone altar on the island of Nias, horsemen riding through an unidentifiable quarry and a Papuan tribesman paddling down a jungle river at night: activities that 99 per cent of tourists are unlikely to experience."
Does Indonesia Tourism Need a New Ad Agency?
These latest embarrassing chapters in tourism promotion comes on the heels of a series of full page display advertisements from the Ministry which have been placed in the international media that contained grammatical discrepancies and poorly conceived selling messages.
One ad carried an emotive message showing a picture of the earthquake-damaged Central Javanese Hindu temple of Prambanan, proclaiming a national commitment to "someday" rebuild the monument, no matter how many years it takes. That message prompted one foreign travel agent to quip: "Give me a call when you are once again open for business."
Another full page advert in the Australian edition of Time Magazine tried to persuade surfers to come to Indonesia, saying surfers will encounter "the same wave everywhere," cryptically tossing in the grammatically suspect non sequitur, "all the islands that have coastlines facing in those directions(sic) get waves."
A more recent full-page advertisements used the device of asking a rhetorical question, but somehow omitted the mandatory question mark.
All of which prompts us to rhetorically ask: "Are we being too finicky?
In the private sector such glaring mistakes in product presentation, branding and campaign execution would almost certainly result in the advertising agency being shown the door. Given the fact that public funds and the nation's reputation are at stake in the current instance, should the standards applied by Minister Wacik be any less rigorous?
The business of Indonesian tourism is too vitally important to the national economy to be left in the hands of bumblers and amateurs. Hopefully, Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik will exercise his mandate and get the national tourism marketing house quickly back in order.
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