Hotel and travel-related companies are ready to make changes in order to support the government’s plan to boost “halal tourism” in the country with the aim of luring tourists from Muslim countries.
Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association (PHRI) executive director Cyprianus Aoer said the sector was an “asset to be developed”, despite the low number of hotels classed as sharia-compliant.
“I think we’re optimistic that we can develop it. Our organization even has a division overseeing sharia [hotels and restaurants],” he said over the phone.
Halal tourism refers to practices and services that specifically cater to Muslim visitors, based on Islamic values including halal food, praying facilities, health and hygiene.
Cyprianus said that hotels should be ready to make some changes in their services in order to be able to comply with halal tourism, which is now rapidly growing amid an increase in foreign tourist arrivals from the Middle East.
He said the Sofyan Hotel chain in Jakarta, which received the world’s best family hotel award at the 2015 World Halal Travel Summit, would be more than ready to support halal tourism.
“If we look at places like Aceh and North Maluku, it would be effortless for them to prepare for halal tourism,” he said, adding that the strong Muslim values and presence in those areas would support the aim.
Aceh, which is overwhelmingly Muslim and the only province to implement Islamic law, has several mosques as tourism attractions, such as the Baiturrahim Mosque, famous as the building that remained standing after the tsunami that struck Banda Aceh in 2004.
Meanwhile, chairman of the West Nusa Tenggara branch of the Association of Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (Asita), Dewantoro Umbu Joka, said the number of foreign Muslim travelers to Lombok, which also won a halal tourism award, and Sumbawa was rising.
West Nusa Tenggara Culture and Tourism Agency noted that the number of foreign tourists visiting Lombok and Sumbawa totaled 1.6 million people in 2014, rising from 1.3 million people in 2013.
“With the award for best halal destination that we received, we’re hopeful that we will receive more tourists from the Middle East next year,” Dewantoro said.
He said tour and travel agencies had begun to promote such packages, as well as developing an Islamic Center in the area.
However, he said the government’s support, especially in improving infrastructure, was also vital to support tourism.
The Global Muslim Travel Index 2015 report noted that the tourist segment was worth US$145 billion, with 108 million Muslim travelers representing 10 percent of the entire tourist economy. It is expected to grow in value to $200 billion with 150 million travelers by 2020.
Indonesia, with 2 million foreign tourist visits for halal tourism last year, still lags behind its neighbors such as Thailand, which boasted 6 million tourists last year for its halal tourism.
Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said previously that he expected the number to increase to 5 million foreign tourists by 2019, partially by allocating around 10 percent of its promotional budget in the 2016 state budget to promote halal tourism.
Halal tourism, mostly underdeveloped in previous years, has so far attracted tourists from Malaysia, Singapore, Middle East and China.
The ministry’s assistant deputy for business and government Tazbir said the government was also eyeing the domestic market for halal tourism and would keep on promoting awareness.
He also urged local areas to improve the conditions and facilities of their mosques to make them more tourist-attractive.