For decades, Singaporeans and Malaysians were the leading visitors to Indonesia, but as the government embarks on plans to increase the number of tourists and the industry’s contribution to GDP, it is looking beyond its South-east Asian neighbours. Top of its list is China, home to more than 1bn people. According to market research group GfK, 109m Chinese travelled overseas in 2015, spending $229bn. “In order to reach 12m foreign tourists in 2016 and 20m by 2020, China is the number-one priority,” Budi Tirtawisata, CEO of travel company Panorama Group, told OBG. “There is a lot of advertising in China.”

Looking To China 

Some 1.05m Chinese visitors travelled to Indonesia in 2014, compared with 39,936 a decade before, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS). Chinese arrivals reached around 1.2m in 2015, with a target of 2.1m set for 2016, which would see China overtake Singapore, Malaysia and Australia as the largest source market. Most Chinese tourists visit Bali, but others are attracted by diving in regions such as Sulawesi. Indonesia’s decision in June 2015 to waive visas for Chinese visitors underpinned the increase in arrivals in the second half of the year. “Psychologically it makes a lot of difference,” said Tirtawisata.

As well as removing visa requirements, Indonesian officials have made regular visits to China to showcase Indonesian destinations and encourage companies to invest in the archipelago, particularly in the infrastructure that is vital to tourism development. Chinese firm Plateno Group is one of the most active investors, with 10 hotels either open or under construction in destinations including Bali and Medan. “More and more Chinese are choosing Indonesia as their holiday destination and are looking to stay with brands they trust,” Hansen Zhao, vice-president and general manager of Plateno’s international business unit, was quoted as saying by Travel Daily in April 2016.

An increase in the number of flights has also made it easier for Chinese visitors to get to Indonesia. National carrier Garuda Indonesia, which has been flying between Bali and Beijing since the beginning of 2015, started flights between the resort island and Guangzhou in November 2015 and to Shanghai in January 2016. It also began operating charter services between Bali and various Chinese cities in the first quarter of 2016, and plans to offer more, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA). Charter flights are a way for airlines to explore demand for new markets and are popular with groups (most Chinese visitors travel on package tours).

Indian Arrivals 

Garuda is also likely to be at the forefront of efforts to attract more visitors from India, which currently has no direct flights to Indonesia. The airline plans to launch charters to the South Asian nation in 2016, as a tester for future scheduled services, according to CAPA. The first flight will link Mumbai with Bali three times a week from August 2016, removing the need to transit in Singapore. India is among the countries that enjoy the 30-day visa-free tourism facility. The Ministry of Tourism is targeting 350,000 arrivals from India in 2016, up from 270,000 in 2015. By 2020 it hopes to welcome 500,000 Indian citizens, who are becoming more interested in overseas travel as incomes rise. In 2014 Indian tourists spent an average of $1140 each during their Indonesian holidays, according to BPS.

Indonesia has stepped up promotional activities in India, taking part in regional travel shows and exhibitions including South Asia’s largest tourism fair, the South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange, which was held in January 2016, and the World Culture Festival, which took place in Delhi in March 2016. Indonesian officials have also been sharing their knowledge of the country with India’s travel agents. The authorities hope that the countries’ shared religions and cultures will attract a rising number of Indian visitors. Java has many reminders of the archipelago’s Hindu past, while Bali retains its own unique Hindu culture.