Indonesia has ambitious plans to be world’s leading halal destination

A Muslim food vendor prepares bakso in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Malaysia is widely known as a halal destination. Source: Shutterstock/Lano Lan

TOURISM in Indonesia is booming, as its 10.5 percent growth in 2016 proved. In fact, the tourism sector remains the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner.

Despite it being the world’s largest Muslim majority, it trails behind Malaysia and Singapore as a destination for halal tourism. From over seven million inbound visitors, about 1.2 of them were Muslim, according to data from 2013.

While neighbor Malaysia is widely known as a halal destination – particularly among Middle Eastern Muslims – Indonesia attempts to learn from the region about halal tourism practices.

A recent study by the Faculty of Syariah & Islamic Economic at Syekh Nurjati State Islamic Institute of Cirebon revealed the Tourism Ministry will be conducting training of human resources, as well as work with tourism organizations to comply with Syariah.

The study stressed halal tourism shouldn’t just target Middle East tourists, but also those from China, South Korea, and Japan as “any traveler can take advantage of a variety of [halal] amenities”.

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To quote the paper, “The core of halal tourism is emphasizing the principles of Syariah in tourism management and service [should be] polite and friendly to all tourists and the surrounding environment.”

Muslim- and tourist-friendly infrastructures, targeted marketing and the training of human resources were said to be most needed for Indonesia to meet Malaysia’s ranks in the halal tourism market.

A step in the right direction, Indonesia launched a visitor guide in 2015 for Muslim tourists titled “Many lands. Timeless culture. One journey”.

The 70-page guide – available in English and Arabic – is an attempt by the Tourism Ministry to diversify its visitor arrivals by providing information on attractions, halal restaurants, places of worship and accommodation.

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Tourism Minister Arief Yahya said: “We want to assure the comfort of these travelers by providing information about various tourism products and services in many destinations in Indonesia that comply with their needs and expectations to enhance their holiday experiences.”

This year, Indonesia has ambitious plans to pull in 3.1 million Muslim tourists with hopes to overtake Malaysia by year-end, and Thailand by 2019.

As quoted by The Jakarta Post, Arief said: “Right now, Singapore and Thailand have more Muslim tourists than us. This is due to the fact they already have halal certification and offer excellent services – we ought to do the same thing.”

Meanwhile, Aceh – one of Indonesia’s most popular hall destinations – is working round the clock to initiate Muslim-friendly hotels, restaurants, spas and shopping centers.

Aceh Tourism Agency head Reza Pahlevi told The Jakarta Post plans are underway to develop several areas as emerging halal destinations, including Banda Aceh, Aceh Besar, Sabang and Lake Laut Tawar.

The agency would provide tourism business certification and tourism courses at higher education centers to boost interest in the province.

“This plan needs to be supported by qualified human resources. Therefore, we will also have tour guide and tour planner certification programs,” Reza told the publication.

More morbidly, Aceh is also attempting to sell the region’s application of Syariah law, including public canings, as a tourist activity.

In a report by South China Morning Post from 2007, Cipta Hunai, then-Aceh’s head of tourism, said:

Punishments are carried out to prevent bad behaviour among Muslims, but they could also be good for tourism.

“I don’t think they are going to scare the tourists. To defend truth and justice is not something scary. I believe tourists would agree.”

Recently, dozens of Malaysian tourists visited Aceh to witness its public canings for crimes like gambling and khalwat (close proximity).

In Aceh, caning is performed in public in front of hundreds while in Malaysia, caning is performed in private, enclosed areas.

To further drive its halal tourism efforts, Indonesia will initiate a forum to facilitate the industry.

The Global Halal Travel Consortium aims to tap potential from the halal travel market to boost national tourism revenues, as well as train halal travel sales force, organize halal tour packages, and promote cross-selling of halal tour packages.

Halal travel – an industry that saw over 115 million visitors in 2015 – is booming faster than ever, and Indonesia will and should be an important narrative in its rise.