BANDA ACEH- Aceh has been for a long time in the news lines of international media. For many years, clashes between Indonesia’s central government and local insurgents dominated the province daily life with fights and killings until a peace agreement was signed in August 2005, ending a 29 year- conflict. The Province made also headlines following the devastating tsunami of 2004. Aceh paid then a heavy tribute with most of the province being devastated. The catastrophe killed 170,000 people in the province while over half a million people lost their homes.
But with insurgency and tsunami behind it, Aceh wants now to promote itself as a peaceful place for visiting and is ready to embrace tourism. This is the message conveyed by Aceh officials for "Visit Aceh 2013" year.
Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah remains confident that "Visit Aceh 2013" will bring renewed prosperity to its province while visitors will enjoy a safe and comfortable experience. The governor is promising safety and comfort for tourists visiting Aceh, and hoping they will bring economic benefits to the region.
"The launch of 'Visit Aceh 2013' will disseminate information that Aceh is ready to receive tourists, both foreign and domestic," explained the Governor at the end of last year during a presentation in Jakarta. “Tourists can experience the diversity of marine life and tropical forests”.
The Governor even believes that shariah implementation in the province might turn into a “big tourist draw”. “Sharia law in Aceh can make the region become one of the biggest religious destinations in Southeast Asia,” Zaini said during the presentation.
Tourists should not be worried about complying with Sharia law during their visit to Aceh as it is only implemented towards local Acehnese people. To be sure that they understand the basic principles, officials indicate that visitors will be given a briefing upon arrival. "Aceh is friendly not only with Islamic countries, but also with non-Islamic countries," added Aceh Governor.
History can also be a big draw for travellers. A tsunami museum has been opened commemorating the victims of the catastrophe and providing information about the terrible event. "We continue to build infrastructure and help the tsunami victims in the region. The tsunami has left many reminders of what happened in 2004," explained Zaini Abdullah.
What can make Aceh attractive is also a very lively culture with many customs based on traditional practice of Islam blended with local traditions. Aceh was in Southest Asia the first place that Islam reached in medieval times. It has then influenced daily life but also the cooking as well as unique traditional dances such as Saman and Seudati. Islamic traditions are likely to be a major attraction for Muslim visitors keen to learn about one of Southeast Asia’s liveliest practices of Islam.
All travellers coming during the Visit Aceh 2013 year will be able to have a free guided tour for one week as part of the tourism promotion programme, according to Adami Umar, Head of Aceh Department of Culture and Tourism.
"Starting January 1, 2013, tourists will be welcomed at the airport and our tour guides will take them around city of Aceh for a week for free," he said.
In 2011, Aceh received close to 13,448 foreign travellers (arrivals at the airport and port according to Aceh Regional Office of Statistics), up by 31% over 2010. Some 465,000 travellers arrived at both port and airport during the same year. In 2012, first estimates for the year indicate a slower growth of total passengers (+4.5%) while total foreign arrivals increased only by 0.4% from January to November 2012.