Indonesia wants to triple its international tourist arrivals by 2018 in a bid to boost its flagging economy, weakened by a sliding rupiah and the global slowdown.
The South-east Asian archipelago state has seen steady growth in the number of visitors in recent years, with arrivals growing by more than 7 per cent last year to 9.44 million.
Early this year, the Ministry of Tourism was given a target by the Joko Widodo administration to raise the contribution from the tourism sector from 9 per cent last year to about 15 per cent by 2019.
But a higher and more ambitious target was set yesterday. "We have high ambitions to bring in 20 million more tourists within the next two to three years," said Tourism Minister Arief Yahya in a press release yesterday, announcing the appointment of Ogilvy Public Relations to drive the "Wonderful Indonesia" branding campaign.
"This year, 'Wonderful Indonesia' ranked 47th as the best branding in the world out of 144 countries, by the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index," added Mr Arief, referring to the World Economic Forum-led index. "We are extremely proud of this and are determined to continue the momentum."
The ministry now has a budget of 1.3 trillion rupiah (S$135 million) to promote tourism this year, more than four times the 300 billion rupiah last year, spokesman Vincent Jemadu was quoted in The Wall Street Journal previously as saying.
The funding will be used to promote Indonesia through international media, including prominent travel and natural science magazines, as well as television advertisements overseas, he said.
Indonesia has its eye on China, which reportedly has 1.3 billion outbound tourists each year. "Indonesia currently draws in only 1 per cent of Chinese tourists globally," Mr Jemadu told the journal. "We want to boost that."
The country, however, is currently grappling with a transboundary haze crisis caused by forest fires set partly to clear land for palm oil and other plantations.
The blanketing smoke from the fires, often burning over dry peatland in Kalimantan and Sumatra, has affected millions across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as in parts of the Philippines and Thailand in recent weeks.
The Indonesian government has, in the past week, started multilateral firefighting operations involving rescue units, armed forces and commercial entities from Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, China and Australia.
Meanwhile, early estimates by its Ministry of Environment and Forestry suggest the crisis could cost the government up to 475 trillion rupiah.
Observers also told The Straits Times last week that aside from economic pains, Indonesia's global standing will take a hit if it does not resolve the decades-old crisis.
Key industry players, however, do not see the haze crisis having a significant impact on Indonesia's attractiveness as a holiday destination among travellers.
Ms Alicia Seah, a 20-year veteran of the tourism sector, said yesterday that Indonesia still has great potential as a tourism hot spot, despite the outlook of a downtrend in visitor arrivals for most Asean countries - due in part to an uneven global economic recovery.
"Most of the year, Indonesia has clear skies," said Ms Seah, the director of marketing and communications at Dynasty Travel, one of Singapore's largest travel agencies.
"In fact, there are many 'under-explored' locations in the country... which are largely unaffected by the haze or forest fires."