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A hidden “Visit Medan Year 2012” reveals Indonesia’s weakness in communication

A “Visit Medan Year 2012” would have gone completely unnoticed until Indonesia State news agency ANTARA finally unveiled in a report –at the end of June!- that Sumatra’s largest city had embarked into this special celebration…

MEDAN- Imagine a city of 2.5 million inhabitants. Imagine organizing an event to promote tourism internationally – at least in neighbouring countries. And now, just imagine that nothing has been spread out beside probably some local newspapers. Put all the elements together and you have the “Visit Medan Year 2012” supposed to bring attention to one of Indonesia’s most interesting cities.

The lack of communication is a real weakness of Indonesia. A few years ago, a UNWTO conference about communication pointed already the failure of the Archipelago to communicate but in times of crisis. The conference took indeed place in Bali, a year after the terrible terrorist attacks on a disco in Indonesia’s tourism paradise. Over the next two years following Bali’s bomb attack of 2004, each press conference hosted by the Minister of Tourism systematically started with a flash-back on the event with the promise that Bali will overcome this tragedy. Making promotion of Indonesia –generally the topic of a press conference from tourism professionals- by first remembering past negative events, is maybe not the best way to generate positive feedbacks.
But let’s come back to Medan’s current celebrations. ANTARA News agency mentions that many art and cultural attractions will help boosting the appeal of the destination, especially among foreign travellers. The news agency stated that three festivals would be promoted to this purpose: the Barongsai Festival  (Lion dance festival) was hosted a week ago with six countries participating to the event; at the end of July, prior to the start of Ramadan, the city will host the Melayu Agung cultural festival (Malay festival) as well as an antique vehicle show. Unfortunately, most of the dates cannot be find on internet and if information are available, they will then request from readers serious knowledge of Indonesian language.

Questioned by ANTARA News, Medan Culture and Tourism Office spokesman Agus Suriono explained that the various art and cultural performances would be staged as part of Visit Medan Year 2012 in order to attract as many domestic and foreign tourists as possible to the capital of North Sumatra province.”We are optimistic that thousands of domestic and foreign tourists will come to see the Barongsai Festival and other cultural attractions,” Agus stated. Medan city government had set itself a target to attract at least 200,000 tourists in 2012.

Meanwhile, North Sumatra Provincial Culture and Tourism Office Chief Naruddin Dalimunthe said the number of foreign tourists visiting the province this year could reach 365,000. According to Naruddin, the visit of foreign tourists to the province in 2012 has shown an upward trend. Therefore, he expressed optimism that the target of 365,000 tourists could be reached, especially in conjunction with the “Visit Medan Year”.
Not everyone shares this optimism. Antara asked Madani Hotel General Manager Dedi Nelson Fachrurrozy explained to the agency that he does not expect any significant impact of the current “Visit Year” on tourist arrivals and occupancy rates in hotels. “Visit Medan Year 2012 lacks promotion and preparation, so it is unlikely to attract a great number of tourists to Medan and North Sumatra,” he said. Local Culture and Tourism Office should have promoted the program better and long before the official start of the special event.  “With consistent promotion through the media in provinces across the country and abroad, the domestic and foreign tourists would have better knowledge about the events to be held during Visit Medan Year,” he explained.

Another professional added his voice to the critics: Consumer Protection Advocacy Agency (LAPK) Director Farid Wajdi said the Visit Medan Year 2012 program was a waste of time as it was neither promoted well, nor supported with adequate infrastructure. “Visit Medan Year must be promoted in a professional way,” Wajdi added.

“Visit Medan Year 2012” would have indeed been a perfect opportunity to highlight internationally all the attractions of Medan. Sumatra’s largest metropolis is home to many ethnics with large representations of Deli Malays, Minangkabau, Batak, Acehnese and Chinese. Medan old town still retains its old atmosphere with many colonial buildings dating back from the Dutch time. Medan has also one of Indonesia’s most beautiful mosques (Masjid Raya) and a Sultan Palace built in Moorish style at the end of the 19th century. In recent years top international chains such as JW Marriott, Swiss-Belhotel and the Grand Aston -which occupies Medan historical City hall with its neo-classical facades. With the opening of a new airport expected in 2013, Medan has all the chances to turn into an attractive destination. Most probably without the help of its low-profile “Visit Medan Year”!

Leave us your comment on what you think about Medan city ability to communicate with the tourism industry.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.