Deni Ghifari, Jakarta – The end of a facility that allowed visitors from dozens of countries to enter Indonesia without a visa will not hurt the tourist industry and will instead improve the quality of tourism, the tourism minister has said.
A Law and Human Rights Ministry Decree signed on June 7 has suspended the visa-free facility for 159 countries, though it remains in place for the country's 10 ASEAN neighbors.
"The visa-free visits for those 159 countries turned out to be ineffective," Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno said on Monday.
In 2016, the government issued a regulation that waived visa requirements for the nationals of 169 countries for short stays, but the exemption was temporarily suspended during the pandemic as it sought to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The visa-free facility was due to be reinstated now that the COVID-19 emergency and certain restrictions for cross-border travel have been lifted, but the facility was reinstated only for 10 ASEAN countries instead of all 169.
Visitors from 92 countries, however, are still eligible to apply for the visa-on-arrival (VOA) facility after arriving on Indonesian soil, which is relatively hassle-free compared to predeparture visa processes.
"The visa on arrival and electronic visa are much more effective," Sandiaga said.
Immigration Director General Silmy Karim said in a press statement released on Sunday that his office would gradually add more countries to the VOA list.
"Even if visa exemption facilities are reinstated later", he said candidate countries must meet the three criteria of reciprocity, benefitting Indonesia and "security aspects" for inclusion on the list.
Sandiaga said the change in policy would not significantly affect foreign tourist arrivals, as the 159 countries did not contribute greatly to Indonesia's tourist industry.
"We don't see a significant impact because as of today, we are on track to reaching 8.5 million [foreign tourist arrivals] without these 159 countries," he added.
The government has set a target of 8.5 million foreign tourist arrivals for this year, more than double last year's target of 3.5 million.
Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data show that the archipelago recorded 3.17 million foreign visitors in the first four months of 2023, leaving just 5 million foreign tourist arrivals over the rest of the year to meet the government's target.
Malaysia and Singapore have accounted for more than 900,000 arrivals this year to date.
Notably, however, Australia, China and India were respectively third, fifth and sixth in terms of tourist arrivals in the first four months of 2023, and together contributed over 22 percent to total arrivals during the same period.
Visitors from the three countries used to enjoy the visa-free facility but must now use the VOA facility, which Sandiaga said would push "quality and sustainable tourism".
The government is currently aiming to attract visitors who will spend more time and money in the country, as opposed to the mass tourism paradigm that focuses exclusively on tourist arrivals.
Azril Azahari, a professor at Ambarrukmo Tourism Institute (STIPRAM) Yogyakarta, disagreed with Sandiaga, saying that the VOA facility also boosted mass tourism because of its minimal requirements.
"The problem with the VOA is that the government has minimized the requirements," Azril told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, so foreign visitors "just come and get the entry stamp, and that's that".
He added that the difficulty with achieving "quality tourism" lay in the fact that it was easy for any foreign national to enter the country, including any individual that might "wreak havoc".
Azril suggested that the VOA be tweaked in line with the "quality tourism" paradigm, for example by enforcing a minimum one-week length of stay and a corresponding minimum monetary requirement to enter the country.
That way, Azril explained, the government could bump up foreign tourists' average length of stay and average spending as the two main indicators of quality tourism.
"Visitor numbers are huge and we are proud of that, but it brings us chaos in the social and legal aspects. We must be more preventive than curative," he said, emphasizing that repairing damage was always more costly than avoiding it.