Monday, July 03, 2006

What's with our hype about Arabian tourists?

Indonesia is expecting a two-fold increase of Arabian tourists. Why? I'm not so sure. But one thing certain: this hype has attracted our Vice President to make a "sensitive" remark about Indonesia's informal sex industry, although he clarified it here.

A couple of months back, an UGM economics professor delived a speech in Jakarta about how to lure Arabian tourists into the country. Although the rationale given by the organizer seemed pretty clear: Indonesia is a "Muslim" country, and there are a lot of "Islamic" historic sites which should be interesting for muslim tourists, such as Sunan Kalijaga's tomb and what not, the professor is not convinced.

In the airport, where we met, he said:
1) "To Arabs, Indonesians are their domestics, their housekeepers. I, for one, would not be interested in visiting my housekeeper's village out in the countryside..."
2) "What's more interesting for many Arabian tourists is the sex and gambling industry, and Indonesia is not very attractive in that sense."

Sex and gambling seem to be more interesting to many tourists than religious sites. And it seems that our VP understands this pretty well. However, being "Indonesian", he'll have to be more careful about remarks he makes in public.


  1. The remakrs given by the anonymous UGM professor are interesting. Unfortunately, if he could show some statistical data or proof to support his comments, that would be really great to get his points across.

    A relative of mine who runs lodging business at Puncak area once expressed his opinion about Arabs to me: "Arabs are very well-known to business players in this area as a very generous tourists, as opposed to local tourists, in terms of money spent and length of stay. Not like Indonesians who usually rent one house and cramp it in with 5 - 8 people throughtout the weekend, these Arabs tend to stay for weeks, in some occasions even months, and often come in a large group. Undoubtedly, they bring in a lot of money to the villas owner, local business owners and in turn local people as well. Usually one month prior to their arrival, they already contact the lodging owner to notify their arrival, book several houses at once for their family members, or one single house but for long period. If they don't have prior experience staying at Puncak, they can just simply fly directly to Soekarno Hatta airport and talk to crowds of brokers there, who will be very happy to lead them to us. During their stay, they most likely hire local people to do the housekeeping & laundry, take them around (car + driver), or sometimes buy a goat from local people and have it slaughtered and roasted it, again, with the help of local people. The high season for tourists from Saudi Arabia is during Hajj period, it is because they rent out their houses back home to the pilgrims and they travel away to "friendly" countries like Indonesia. And you will be very lucky to find them during the fasting month of Ramadhan. They don't do traveling in the Holly month. However, please don't get it wrong. I'm talking here about average Arab families, not affluent families who own multi-billion dollar business or the Royal Family members. Thus, you'll be amazed how these people bring in money and business to local people. If you happen to stop by this area, you'll be astounded to find all of business signs are written in Arabics, and even more and more local people speak Arabic todays as their second language".

    That's a point of view about Arab tourists from a business owner at Puncak area. I can't comment on Arabs who travel to other areas other than Puncak. And I'm also not blind to the fact that some Arabs perform temporary marriage with local widows. However if someone said that sex and gambling tourism are more enchanting to Arabs than local tourism, I am very excited to learn more about it. Oh ya, one more thing that worth mentioning, when my relative first open his business to public back in early 90's, he happened to put several traditional Bali pictures on the wall of each house showing a group of topless Bali women working in Paddy field. According to his villa employees, when the Arabs got into the house, they asked them to take all the pictures down and in other houses other employees found the pictures were turned over. When an employee asked why, they said "It's HARAM"! (It's a true story, really...)

  2. Andre,
    Thanks much for your comments.

    Unfortunately my chat with the professor was an informal one, so I don't know whether he has the statistics to prove his remarks or not.

    Hope my post doesn't seem to 'generalize' Arabian tourists. It's good to hear that the lodging business is running well, and that Arabian tourists are contributing to the local economy in Puncak. It's also good to hear that many are keeping their religious practice despite potentials to engage in the informal, local sex industry.

    I'm still curious, though, to hear from your perspective:
    1) do you agree that the number of Arabian tourists are increasing?
    2) if so, why is Indonesia (or at least Puncak, in your context) is an attractive place for them? Surely there are many countries and places to choose from for vacation/tourism.
    Is it the Muslim-friendly atmosphere here? Or something else?


  3. Thanks also for your comment.

    Frankly speaking, I really have no clue if the number of Middle Easterns coming to Indonesia as tourists in the past few years is increasing or not. But to my knowledge, the tourism business, particularly at Puncak area, seems never running out Arabian visitors from year to year.

    Several factors, which I see, that might have contributed to this fact are: Indonesia as the world's largest Moslem population offers a Moslem-friendly environment which is attractive to them; traveling to and staying in Indonesia for a long period is not burdensome to them due to our low-value currency and cheap labors; our friendly behaviour towards visitors also play an important role to make them come back after their first visit and sometimes in larger group.

    Thus, even without intervention by our government, Indonesia is naturally attractive for tourists from Middle East. Hence it is so regretful if this natural bargain must be disrupted (hopefully not) by unnecessary comments made by this country's high-rank official. And referring to temporary marriage practice performed by local widows/women, it needs further study to find out if this practice only happens at a "certain place" which relates to a certain socio-culture or a common practice in Indonesia.