East Java & Indonesia’s Problem with Tourism

So in December I had the opportunity to commence writing the Java section of the Indonesia guide for travelfish.org Yes… What a month it was too. I basically spent the month traipsing back and forth around the cities and towns of East Java trying to uncover the best accommodation, sites and activities for travellers heading to that part of the world.

What I found interesting about this trip is how infrequently I came across other travellers. At times I would goes days without seeing another white person, yet the places I was visiting were great tourist destinations. Places like Surabaya are well-worth a stop… so why aren’t people checking it out? Well, I think I know the answer. There are hardly any travellers out there that are adventurous. Hardly any. The vast majority are more comfortable taking pre-arranged transport than public transport, eating at malls rather than warungs and staying in hotels found on hostelbookers rather than those listed in a guide book (or worse, finding themselves by walking around).

Gunung Bromo Savanna
Gunung Bromo Savanna

It’s a big call, I know, but what else explains why people aren’t visiting the temples of Trowulan, the temples at Singosari or Gunung Semeru, the largest volcano in Java? This despite them being very close to other locations that attract quite a few visitors such as the well-connected Gunung Bromo.

Dwarapala in Singosari, Malang
Dwarapala in Singosari, Malang

So Indonesia has a problem. Foreign visitors generally aren’t going to be bothered heading to cities like Malang unless it’s easy to get there and once there, the sites are easy to reach. An example of the difficulties that one must endure is the process of seeing the Singosari temples near Malang. If you want to do it, you either have to hire a car and driver for the day or utilise pubic transport. A car and driver is usually quite expensive and people just don’t bother. To get to them all by public transport in a day is an exercise in┬áperseverance. One has to catch at least 10 angkots. 10! So to speed things up, it’s best to mix it up with a few motorcycle taxis too. But most people just aren’t going to be bothered with this approach either. The better option would be to hire a motorbike, but I rarely see foreigner tourists on motorbikes in Java. I think I’ve seen one.

Huge, active volcano, Gunung Bromo
Huge, active volcano, Gunung Bromo

Anyway, it saddens me a bit and I wish Indonesia would try and tackle this problem. This is not a problem of visitors. It’s a problem of infrastructure and marketing. Hardly anyone knows about Gunung Bromo which in my opinion is one of the highlights of my experiences in SE Asia. And even when people do know about it, they really need to land in Yogyakarta to easily book direct transport.

Temple in Trowulan, outside Surabaya
Temple in Trowulan, outside Surabaya

These issues make Indonesia a brilliant place for those that are slightly more adventurous and determined. It means you can have authentic experiences every day you are here. It means you won’t be bothered by loud-mouthed drunken louts, teens in “in the tubing” shirts or fools reliant on hostelbookers/tripadvisor to get their accommodation ideas. It’s perfect really. But sad for Indonesia.

So what’s my point? My point is that Indonesia needs to do more to give its attractions the best possible chance of being seen. In the meantime, Indonesia is a virtually unspoilt wonderland just waiting for adventurous souls to come and try it out. Give it a go!

Note: The Indonesia view of this issue is slightly different because they speak the language, are familiar with the modes of transport and how things work.

3 thoughts on “East Java & Indonesia’s Problem with Tourism

  1. Speaking from personal experience, and yes being an Indonesian myself, even when Indonesians speak the language, many of us are still reluctant to explore our own beautiful country for the simple reason of “inconvenience”. Many of us rather go to Singapore, then explore Bromo, or some other remote islands in Indonesia because “it costs more and we don’t get as good service when we are there”.

    I hear those often from friends. And some of these (remote) places aren’t that cheap. I understand where they are coming from. Only the adventurous ones would go out of their comfort zone to explore these places.

    I agree with what you said that the government need to start putting serious thoughts and effort into improving this country’s tourism industry. But before all that, corruptions should probably get the priority. I am hopeful that one day we see better infrastructures and facilities built to visit many of these places.

    Oh, on that note, on my Bali solo trip, I hardly see any Indonesians traveller! But more bule ­čśÇ

    1. @Miss Lai Lai – Yeh it’s interesting when I speak with Indonesians about my travels in their country. They think I’m adventurous! Maybe people only use those forms of transport if they’re returning to their kampung or something and not when on holiday.

  2. wow, what a wonderful journey… you really are an adventurer!! ­čśÇ

    and yeah… Indonesia has a tourism problems… marketing, infrastructure, facilities are a common problems to Indonesia’s tourism… i hope the government would make any changes and improvement to these…

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