DestinationsStakeholders across the spectrum, from traditional villages to travel agents, are urged to embrace digital transformation.

Indonesia wants to embrace the digital economy. Is the tourism sector ready?

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Among the first to take the digital leap, Labuan Bajo on Flores, the gateway to Komodo Islands, has kickstarted online traveller registration systems.
Among the first to take the digital leap, Labuan Bajo on Flores, the gateway to Komodo Islands, has kickstarted online traveller registration systems. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/Treethot Polrajlum

The Indonesian Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry is encouraging all travel industry members to digitise services as much as possible, in an effort to develop a ‘digital tourism ecosystem’.

Stakeholders across the spectrum, from traditional villages to travel agents, are being encouraged to embrace e-commerce, virtual tours and online traveller registration.

The tourism ministry always tells tour operators and travel agents to ‘go digital’, but do they understand that we are not IT companies? We don’t have the capacity to sell like Traveloka or other major platforms.– Pauline Suharno, ASTINDO

Management consulting company Redseer projected that a new cohort of e-commerce users amid the pandemic will push Indonesia’s overall online sales value to US$40 billion this year, the third-highest in the world, The Jakarta Post reported. The nation’s young, digital savvy population, which tops global lists for social media and mobile-usage growth rates, is a major driver of the e-commerce explosion.

What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the travel industry of Southeast Asia’s biggest and fastest-growing digital economy?

Virtual tours have been gaining popularity in recent months, as both a minor income stream and promotion tool. Usually conducted via Zoom or Instagram, city tours, culinary tours, and even a climb of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani have attracted increasing viewer numbers. Domestic tours usually hover around 50,000 rupiah (US$3.40), while international destinations have been priced at around triple that amount.

To support skills development, the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy recently held a marathon five-hour webinar titled 'Digital Transformation Synergy as a Step to Strengthening the Digital Tourism Ecosystem'. It comprised three sessions: producing sellable virtual tour content, storytelling techniques, and virtual tour packaging in the digital market.

"Interactive virtual tour activities can be an alternative for tour guides so they can continue to work while at the same time introduce regional tourism," the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy’s digital economy deputy Muhammad Neil El Himam said in a media statement. "The aim of developing interactive virtual tours is to revive Indonesian tourism during the pandemic,” he added.

However, Pauline Suharno, secretary general of the Indonesian Travel Agents Association (ASTINDO), warned that many tour operators in Indonesia often lack the resources to produce viable content, especially those in more remote regions where internet connection is unstable.

“The tourism ministry always tells tour operators and travel agents to ‘go digital’, but do they understand that we are not IT companies? We don’t have the capacity to sell like Traveloka or other major platforms. As much as we want to go online, we don't have as much capital to burn like other online travel agencies do. The government should provide a platform for virtual tours and tour sales — don’t ask travel agents to build their own platform,” Suharno said.

Other elements of the push for digitisation include online traveller registration systems. One of the Tourism Ministry’s ‘super-priority’ destinations, Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores, the gateway to Komodo Islands, has embraced the system.

The president director of the Labuan Bajo Flores Tourism Authority, Shana Fatina, told Investor Daily Indonesia that the registration system is to protect both travellers and conservation efforts.

"Online registration will certainly strengthen safety and security. In the past, if there was a boat accident or diving accident we had difficulty finding out who the operator was or where the reports were. Now, with this online registration system it will be easier for everyone to signal during an emergency and directly connect to related agencies.”

The Komodo National Park’s spokesperson, Muhammad Iqbal Putera, explained that "the number of tourists visiting Komodo National Park must be properly regulated. One way to regulate it is through the online registration system. So, it is not only beneficial for the ecosystem, but also the safety of all stakeholders.”

Next on Indonesia's digital journey is participation in the Virtual ITB Asia 2020 from 21-23 October and the online New Normal Travel Fair 2020 from 7-15 November — the latter in collaboration with virtual exhibition platform Fairtual.

The platform’s founder, Dimi, said in a media release that “the New Normal Travel Fair is the first in Indonesia’s tourism industry to help promote and organise virtual events. Participants and vendors can experience a new virtual event that is more realistic and highly relevant during the pandemic.”

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