Published on : Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Tourists come to Indonesia from all over the world to enjoy its beaches, wildlife and heritage sites. However, many tourists come for religious reasons too. In 2015, Lombok, among whose population 90 percent are Muslims, was dubbed the “world’s best halal tourism destination” at an annual Muslim travel industry event in Dubai. The island — which has long been overshadowed by glamorous, Hindu-majority Bali, is just a 30-minute flight to the west, and it has now grabbed the distinction as a unique touristic selling point.
As the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia has high hopes on the halal market to expand its $13 billion tourism industry, which lags behind those of neighbors like Thailand and Singapore. Lombok is in West Nusa Tenggara province, which is one of three government-designated “priority” halal destinations, along with West Sumatra and Aceh. Jakarta’s deputy governor Sandiaga Uno has expressed his interest in developing a “sharia tourism zone” in the nation’s capital, and announced that the city would build “sharia-based” hotels.
About 2.7 million tourists visited halal destinations in Indonesia in 2016.
Lombok welcomed about 3 million foreign and domestic tourists last year. On this island, nearly all food — fish satay, chicken smeared with eponymous Lombok chili sambal — is already halal. Mosques are always within reach. Nearly every hotel, restaurant and beach club has a musholla, or prayer room.
However, the number of Middle Eastern and Gulf tourists to Indonesia hovered around just 200,000 last year, compared to 600,000 who visited nearby Thailand. To attract more of these tourists, Indonesia has pushed for more direct flights from Gulf carriers like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways and laid out its strategies in a different way for its promotion of destinations outside Bali.
Those in the travel industry describe Muslim travelers as the next “billion-person market,” after India and China. Almost a quarter of the entire world’s population is Muslim.