The drive is part of the government’s efforts to boost state coffers and meet its 5.2 percent growth target this year. President Joko Widodo promised 7 percent economic growth rate on the campaign trail in 2014. The tourism sector contributed 4.23 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016.
The Muslim travel market is one of the fastest-growing segments in the global travel industry, according to the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2017, which was released in May.
The GMTI predicted that the Muslim travel market will be worth $220 billion by 2020 and $300 billion by 2026, spurred by Muslim-friendly amenities and easy access to travel information.
Around 121 million Muslims traveled internationally during 2016 — an increase of 4 million from the previous year. It is estimated that figure will reach 156 million by 2020 — accounting for 10 percent of the global travel market.
According to the GMTI, Indonesia ranks third — after Malaysia and the UAE — out of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“We aim to be in the No. 1 spot by 2019,” Hafizuddin Ahmad, a member of the halal tourism acceleration team at the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism, told Arab News.
The government has assigned 10 destinations across the country for halal tourism, with Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara province, West Sumatra and Aceh as the Top 3.
“We assigned those destinations in accordance with the local culture and their readiness to adapt to the concept,” said Ahmad, who is part of a Shariah supervisory body for Sofyan Hotels, a local hotel chain that follows Shariah principles in its management.
Lombok Island has already made a name for itself as a halal destination, picking up World’s Best Halal Destination and World’s Best Halal Honeymoon Destination at the World Halal Travel Awards in 2015.
But Taufan Rahmadi, who oversees projects to accelerate the growth of the island’s Mandalika area as a tourism destination, stressed that it is not just Muslim tourists that Lombok wishes to attract.
“We do not apply special zones for halal or conventional tourism. Halal tourism should not override existing, conventional tourism,” he told Arab News. “We don’t want to scare the conventional tourists away.
“Our branding is in line with the culture and our local custom, as our competitive edge, compared to Bali,” Rahmadi continued, referring to Lombok’s more famous and popular neighbor, while pointing out that Muslims account for 95 percent of Lombok’s population. He also claimed to have “often heard” complaints from tourists who could not find halal services in Bali.
Lombok saw an increase in visitors from Middle Eastern countries last year, up to 240,989 from 182,143 the previous year. But Arista Atmadjati — a tourism lecturer from Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta — said the island is hindered in its quest to attract further Muslim tourists by the fact there are still no direct flights from the GCC to Lombok.
“We are working on it. We are also working to have the runway in Lombok airport extended so that wide-body aircrafts can land,” Ahmadi said.
“Improved connectivity is a must so that Lombok can be a primary tourism destination instead of getting spillover from Bali where the tourists may have spent their money,” Atmadjati said.