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Visit Musi 2008: South Sumatra

The tourism business in South Sumatra has been sluggish for years. The province hardly figures as a major tourist destination, although the region was named Indonesia’s seventh tourist destination a few years back. In fact, the province is rich in culture and historical sites. These include prehistoric relics and attractions of historical value linked to Indonesia’s independence struggle. Unfortunately, this potential has remained largely untapped, consequently it has little business value.

Quantitatively, there are 243 tourist sites in South Sumatra. Unfortunately, less than 40 percent of these are in a condition that would be able to lure any tourists.

When South Sumatra hosted the National Sports Week in 2004, new life was injected into the tourism business. Various international-standard facilities such as star-rated hotels were built in Palembang municipality. Following the successful hosting of PON, various other national and international activities have also been organized here. Meanwhile, the provincial
administration has also begun efforts to boost the province’s tourism potential, an effort culminating in the launch of Visit Musi 2008 as part of the national tourism drive: Visit Indonesia Year according to Khairul Saleh.

A provisional evaluation shows that Visit Musi 2008 has led to a 100 percent increase in tourist arrivals compared to the same period last year. In the first three months of 2007, only 150,000 tourists visited the province but this year the number has risen to 348,000, said Rahman Zeth, chief of the cultural and tourism office of South Sumatra province, in Palembang.

This data, Rahman said, has been obtained from hotel management boards and the local immigration office. The number of tourists, he went on, has increased by some 100,000 people every month. “These tourists have come from various countries like Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Singapore, the U.S. and several regions in Indonesia,” he said.

In an effort to boost tourist arrivals in relation with the Visit Musi 2008 program, his office continues to restore tourist facilities and infrastructure, and to improve the quality of human resources and establish cooperation with its partners.

The Visit Musi 2008 program itself is part of the national tourism agenda and has enjoyed support from the central government. As a manifestation of this support, the central government has named the province of South Sumatra as one of the top five tourist destination regions in the Visit Indonesia 2008 program.
The central government will also inject between Rp 5 billion and 10 billion into tourism development through various activities.

This year Visit Musi 2008 is still focused on the promotion of tourist sites. In 2009, the program will focus on physical development and construction at tourist sites.

Three regions in South Sumatra have been identified to attract tourists in 2008, said Rahmat. These three, which are ready in terms of their tourist potential, are Palembang municipality with Musi River as a tourist attraction, Pagaralam with a trip to Mount Dempo and South Ogan Komering Ulu with a trip to Lake Ranau. Nevertheless, he stressed, other tourist sites would also be given attention by the local administration. These include Muaraenim with a trip to Bumi Ayu Temple and Ogan Komering Ulu Induk with a trip to Putri Cave, Lubuklinggau with a trip to Temam Waterfall, Lahat with a trip to Serelo Hill and Ogan Komering Ilir with a trip to Lake Teluk Gelam.

“With the launch of Visit Musi 2008, we have set our tourist arrival target at 1.5 million people, that is, at least twice as many as the 2007 target of some 700,000 tourists,” he added.

As for the fund allocated to boost tourism in 2008, he said it would reach Rp 15 billion, including salaries. This is a relatively small amount compared to other provinces, he asserted.

To support Visit Musi 2008, the tourism and cultural office of South Sumatra province built an office for the Tourism Information Office near Kuto Besak Fort on the banks of Musi River, Palembang. A specially assigned officer will explain the tourist sites to visitors. In addition, information can also be obtained by visiting www.wisata.sumsel.info.

Meanwhile, according to the chairman of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association South Sumatra chapter, Iwan Setiawan, tourism in South Sumatra has shown an uptrend trend since the launch of Visit Musi 2008. Quite a significant increase has been recorded in the first quarter. The occupancy rate in various hotels in Palembang, for example, has enjoyed an increase of some 15 percent. These hotels have also enjoyed an increase of some 10 percent in the number of visitors. A similar trend was also seen in the restaurant business.

“In the first quarter following the launch of Visit Musi 2008, there has been a favorable development in the province’s tourism business. Hotel occupancy rates, for example, have risen. Likewise, the number of visitors has also increased while travel agencies show brisk activities,” Iwan Setiawan said.

Unfortunately, he added, this favorable development is still linked to events on the Visit Musi 2008 agenda. This is understandable because it is still a relatively new program.

Iwan, however, was optimistic that in future this would improve, especially because in 2009 the Visit Musi program would focus on revitalization of various tourist sites and improvement of supporting infrastructure.

Of no less importance in this respect are the efforts of the South Sumatra provincial administration to organize various national and international activities to support the Visit Musi 2008 program and make it a success.

“The quality and quantity of these activities must continue to improve. The shortcomings this year must be taken as a lesson for the coming years so that the result will be much better,” he said.

The South Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association considers the Visit Musi program as the starting point of a revival in the tourism business in South Sumatra, he added. That’s why, the association has prepared a number of activities to be included in the Visit Musi 2008 agenda and in the association’s agenda itself.

“In South Sumatra, the association mediates between travel agencies in Palembang and Malaysia and provides input to the local administration,” he noted.

It is not easy to make tourism a top income earner, he said. Continuous promotional activities, which will require a lot of money, will be necessary. Along with that tourist guides, tourism business players and service providers such as tricycle-riders and operators of small boats, called ketek In Palembang, on Musi River, have to be properly prepared.

“Tour guides must be able to speak English and must also be taught to have the right mentality and demonstrate good behavior,” he said, adding that his association will provide English proficiency training to tour operators.

In his criticism of Visit Musi 2008, Iwan said that the program had not yet had a favorable impact on the economic life of the ordinary people. Small traders who sell local souvenirs, for example, did not have an outlet to sell them and hence the visiting tourists would find it difficult to find them.

“The provincial administration has done something about this matter but efforts have to be maximized. When training is given to small-scale entrepreneurs, for example, these people do not have to be sent to Java. The local administration, for example, can invite the instructors to come to Palembang. In this way, the benefits will be enjoyed by many people,” Iwan said.

Many plantations and oil and gas centers in South Sumatra, Iwan said, have the potential to be developed into tourist sites which the provincial administration should pay attention to. He was optimistic that agrotourism would attract a lot of tourists.

“There are a lot of plantations and oil and gas processing centers in South Sumatra. Why haven’t efforts been made to develop this tourist potential? It would be a pity if this was not tapped,” he said.