The present government is undoubtedly dedicated to some agendas more than any previous government. Curbing corruption, stabilising finances, taking series and rapid environmental initiatives are a few areas the government is focusing on. Signing MoUs with multiple countries to address the matter of money laundering and operational cooperation, detaining supposedly corrupt politicians and officials, giving power to National Accountability Bureau (NAB), diplomatic manoeuvring to borrow some loan from our friends, targeted negotiations with IMF, prohibiting the use of plastic bags are some examples of showing resoluteness to the agenda. But what about tourism?

IK has been addressing at multiple forums such as Pakistan Tourism Summit about regulating the tourism industry in Pakistan by forming and executing adequate regulations to let untouched scenic sites from getting ruined. Mr Prime Minister has been communicating the untapped diversity of tourism sector in the country that includes distinct geographical landscape (from beaches, deserts, plateaus, to high altitude mountain ranges), variety of cultures (to name some are Sindhi, Sarieke, Balochi, Punjabi, Pushtoon, Bulti, Kalash, Sufi and many more. Each culture contains its unique lifestyle including dresses, music, dances, cousins, and rituals.), diverse religious underpinning (having oldest Buddhists’ Stoops, Hindu Temples, Holy places of Sikh saints etc.).But are we in the mood to reengineer the entire tourism set up to attract domestic and foreign tourists in large numbers? According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan’s GDP in 2016 was US$7.6 billion (PKR 793.0 billion), constituting 2.7% of the total GDP. By 2025, the government predicts tourism will contribute Rp1 trillion (US$7.1 billion) to Pakistan, but the question in capital letters is HOW? Is highlighting the tourism potential with repeated verbosity is enough? Does being a pro-tourism prime minster cover all the matters to be taken care of? Have we ever thought to mark a country that is progressive in establishing tourist destinations, borrow a mechanism from them, customise with our settings and get set go? The answer to all these questions is a big flat no. Isn’t it? So what should be done, wouldn’t it be sane to benchmark a country that is somehow similar to us and is having rising tourism sector? The best fit in this regard is Indonesia because it is a country dominated by Muslims. But its population have people from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds. Also, it is part of OIC and developing eight countries, struggling to tap its potential. Moreover, Indonesia is willing to re-strengthen ties with Pakistan. According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 40% of Indonesians view Pakistan’s influence positively, making Indonesia the country with the most positive perception of Pakistan in the world.

Indonesia was ranked 20th in the world tourist Industry in 2017. The country was declared the ninth-fastest growing tourist destination in the world. And it ranked as the third-fastest growing in Asia and fastest-growing in Southeast Asia. Only this year, the Lonely Planet ranked Indonesia as one to the top 10 countries to visit in 2019.

Tourism in Indonesia is one of the focal elements of the Indonesian economy and besides a sizeable source of its foreign exchange revenues. The country has planned to achieve 8 per cent of GDP from the tourism sector and targeted to attract about 20 million visitors by 2019. The tourism sector ranked as the 4th largest among goods and services export sectors.

Do you think it all just happened? No, not at all. It started with a will indeed but executed through a well-thought plan. Let us dive into facts and ask ourselves where we stand. Back in 1991 “Visit Indonesia Years” was a branding campaign to promote Indonesia to the world tourism industry. The Years were announced by Suharto at the beginning of each year during his time in power, and it was his presidential decisions that made the operation of the years function within the governmental process. Do we have any such orders by our Prime Minister? As part of the plan of the then government set a target of 6.5 million foreign tourists, bringing in US$9 billion in foreign exchange, with 84.2 million domestic tourists spending Rp9 trillion. It was hoped that tourism would generate 900,000 new jobs. The multi-functional and multi-sectoral integrated branding campaign lifted Indonesian tourism to a new elevation, boosted the economy, and generated plenty of employment. In January 2011, the Visit Indonesia Years branding was discontinued and changed to the “Wonderful Indonesia” campaign, which is lifting the Indonesian tourism in an unstoppable manner. Have we planned-out any such campaign yet? If not, no worries. Start learning from the Indonesian tourism ministry. The Indonesian tourism ministry is split into multiple wings and is design to respond to high-velocity changes in the sector efficiently. To market the vibrancies of tourist destinations and attract new visitors, they have directors for international tourism marketing. For instance, Dr Sigit is looking after south and central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The ministry has bestowed autonomy to the heads of tourism at different destinations, and they can fully negotiate with foreign investors, tourist companies, and varied department relating to tourism like aviation, hospitality, transportation, food authorities, etc.

The Indonesian government has given priority to 10 destinations such as Borobudur, Central Java; Mandalika, West Nusa Tenggara; Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara; Bromo-Tengger-Semeru, East Java; Thousand Islands, Jakarta; Toba, North Sumatra; Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi; Tanjung Lesung, Banten; Morotai, North Maluku; and Tanjung Kelayang, Belitung, and planned to assign maximum supplies for the said destinations. Have we planned to allocate our maximum resources to our top destinations, or have we ever picked up some stations to focus on?

Indonesia is aiming for 275 million trips by domestic tourists by the end of 2019. Do we have any statistics of such nature? The Indonesian government has also secured commitments from potential investors, totalling US$70 million in the areas of building accommodation, marina and ecotourism facilities in 3 of the ten areas. Are we inviting any local or foreign investors to spend and earn, and is there any documented four years plan to engage investors and bring pace to economic wheel?

The prospective friendship bonds on the Eastern side of Pakistan do not and should not end in Malaysia. Current Indonesian ambassador to Pakistan, His Excellency Iwan Suyudhie Amri, appears to be very instrumental in taking Pakistan-Indonesia relations to the next level by combining trade and tourism. We must take this opportunity to re-build this relationship to grow together with hands in hands.