Tourism is a serious business: Not only is it one of the world?s fastest-growing and largest industries, it?s also a major employer and important source of foreign exchange income. In short, tourism is an important driver of economic progress, which is why governments around the world work so hard to attract tourists.
And then there is the important subsector of golf tourism. Global golf tourism is a US$20 billion business, thanks to the approximately 50 million golf tourists around the world.
So since Indonesia is home to about 160 golf courses, you?d expect that we?d be enjoying a sizeable slice of the golf tourism pie, wouldn?t you? And yet, we?re not.
In fact, according to the Asia Golf Tourism Report by Paul Myers from Asian Travel Media, Bangkok, released last October, Indonesia isn?t even getting the crumbs.
According to the report, Thailand is the regional leader in inbound golf tourism, followed by Malaysia and then China. Thailand?s position at the top is attributed to its decade-long efforts in diligently and consistently marketing its high-quality yet affordable golf offering. What?s more, golf tourism in Thailand has the support of major players in the country?s tourism industry, such as the Tourist Authority of Thailand, regional tourism promotion offices, Thai Airways and the private sector, including (golf) tour and travel operators and the hotel industry.
According to figures released by the Tourist Authority of Thailand in November, about 600,000 of the 19 million foreign tourists expected to visit the country this year will be coming to play golf. That makes Thailand the third most popular golf destination in the world. Spain, with one million golfers a year, is the world?s number one golf tourism magnet, with Britain a strong second.
And golf tourism is a lucrative segment of the industry: On average, golf tourists spend three times as much as other tourists. The typical foreign golfer spends an estimated US$3,300 on a golf trip to Thailand, which, according to Tourist Authority of Thailand forecasts, translates to a value of US$2 billion in 2012.
To grow tourist arrivals, next to perfect infrastructure and interesting and clean and well maintained tourist sites, a constant update and/or introduction of new tourist attractions is needed. In Asia, Singapore is the prime example for continuously updating its tourism product. By putting in place the Singapore Flyer, Resort World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, to name just a few, the island state was able to attract more than 10 million visitors in 2011.
There is less information on Malaysia, but it is estimated to attract just over 100,000 foreign golfers a year, generating annual foreign currency income of more than US$250 million. As for China, although most golfers there come from the emerging middle and upper class, diligent global marketing is attracting increasing numbers of golfers from other countries to China?s fabulous courses, especially to the renowned Mission Hills in southern China where golfers can play 12 courses in the one region.
The report also mentions golf tourism developments by other countries in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, where, in the past five years, more than 50 courses have been opened or started to be built, inbound golf tourism to Vietnam is estimated to attract about 10,000 foreign golfers a year. Even Laos is attracting thousands of golfers, despite having only four major golf resorts, whereas Cambodia, like Vietnam, has outsourced its golf tourism marketing to American-owned companies.
What About Indonesia?
And what did this new and important report on golf tourism in Asia have to say about Indonesia?
This may come as a surprise to those fortunate enough to be familiar with Indonesia?s fabulous world of golf and leisure. But it was no surprise to me.
After all, for many years ? ever since I started Golf Promo Indonesia and www.indogolf.com in 1998 ? I have unsuccessfully sought to convince stakeholders in the local golf and tourism industries to join forces to promote Indonesia to the world as a golf tourism destination. But bringing together our golf industry and our national and regional tourism promotion offices has turned out to ?mission impossible?.
This is truly a wasted opportunity, when Indonesia?s golf tourism products equal or surpass those of our neighbors in so many ways.
Our golf courses and facilities are just as good as those in Thailand, Malaysia or China. We even have our own version of ?Mission Hills? ? Jakarta?s Jagorawi toll road gives easy access to 17 fabulous courses. Golf courses here were designed by the best in the business and are located in stunning natural settings. They are accessible, high quality and well maintained. They are managed in a highly professional manner and are ready to welcome even the most spoiled golf traveler. Most club houses are of five-star quality, and the amenities on offer are exemplary.
Then there are our caddies, who are in a class of their own: They?re pretty, friendly and, most importantly, they are very knowledgeable. What?s more, they are proficient in English and fun to be with.
What?s more, weekday golf in Indonesia is relatively inexpensive (with the exception of Bali), and a golf ztrip can be nicely combined with the riches of leisure, art and culture on offer here, all supported by the nation?s world-class hospitality industry and famous ?friendly smile?.
Nevertheless, Indonesia is completely unknown as a world-class golf destination. The golf and tourism industries are missing out on a potentially highly lucrative opportunity, and it?s their own fault.
There is no real solidarity among the owners and managers of golf courses here, despite golf associations and regular meetings to discuss daily business. Rather, they are too busy competing with each other to join together to attract some of those 50 million golf tourists and, in doing so, add significant revenue to their business.
Despite having had a golfer at its helm, the tourism ministry appears to have no idea of how golf could contribute to tourism in Indonesia; this ignorance is reflected in regional tourism promotion offices such as the Jakarta Tourism Promotion Office (JTPO), which show no interest in working with local stakeholders to let the world know about Jakarta?s fabulous world of golf. To be fair, the JTPO did commission a ?Road map for Indonesia golf? ? but from a UK company, as if those in the Indonesian golf industry don?t have the knowledge to contribute.
It is unforgivable that Indonesia does not get a mention in the important report on golf tourism in Asia. That golf in Indonesia is a valuable tourism asset seems blindingly obvious ? as does the suggestion that we should capitalize on this asset by promoting it to the world.
Now surely is the time for the main players in Indonesia?s golf and tourism industries to come together with the tourism ministry and the regional tourism boards of Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali to create a sustainable golf tourism strategy that will secure Indonesia?s position as one of Asia?s most attractive golf destinations. If not, Indonesia will continue to languish as merely a ?world-class golf destination in waiting?.