BANDAR LAMPUNG, Indonesia (eTN) – Barely known by foreign travelers, Bandar Lampung could be an easy alternative destination for both domestic and international travelers. “Lampung province is the most southern tip to Sumatra. Due to this exceptional position, it is the gateway from Java to Sumatra,” explained Sapta Nirwandar, former Director of Marketing at the Ministry of Tourism and now Vice Minister of Culture and Tourism. Sapta Nirwandar is easily to be convinced about the potential of Lampung, as it is its home province.
The region has indeed all the necessary ingredients to provide a memorable stay to travelers looking at Indonesia’s culture and nature. Bandar Lampung is home to one of Indonesia’s most spectacular fashions with delicate Siger ornaments – a kind of tiara – worn by men and women for wedding or festive occasions. Local sarongs (named “tapis”) are rich in golden thread embroideries and sophisticated patterns. An annual carnival – organized for the Krakatau Festival, the province’s main tourist event – is an amazing and fun display of colorful costumes.
“Lampung natural assets are second to none. We are, for example, the only province in Sumatra to still have elephants, Sumatra’s rhinos and tigers, as well as dolphins,” added an enthusiastic Sapta Nirwandar. According to Lampung head of tourism, six regions have been set as priority targets for tourism: Way Kambas National Park as an elephant sanctuary; Tanjung Setia, considered as one of the best places for surfing in Indonesia; Kiluan Bay for its marine conservatory, including dolphins; Krakatau volcano island with its landscapes; South Bukit Barisan National Park, the third largest in Sumatra; and finally, Bandar Lampung itself.
Among Lampung’s priorities for the near future is the upgrading of the province’s infrastructures: the airport will be renovated with its runway extended until 2013 to accommodate larger aircraft, and both regional and national and provincial governments have set as a priority the construction of a bridge linking the islands of Java and Sumatra. Lampung is currently a mere six hours by road and ferry from Jakarta. Enhancing terrestrial infrastructures would then make it a serious competitor to Bandung or Banten Province for Jakarta’s weekenders.
Some two million domestic travelers come every year to the province, 70% of them out of Jakarta. But Lampung has also the ambition to become an international tourism destination. Currently, some 40,000 foreign visitors visit annually the province, a figure that the local government would like to double.
The hosting for the first time of Indonesia’s only trade travel show looked then as the right opportunity to expose Lampung province’s assets to some 80 buyers coming from all around the world. Except that it mostly left a bitter taste to most buyers. Most of them found the show itself very productive with sellers, but expressed their disappointment about the way they were treated by the government. Complaints ranged from the trouble to get a reliable public transport between hotels and the exhibition venue, to the punctuality, and above all, about the presentation of the province at post tours.
A trip to visit the elephant reserve turned catastrophic, with travel agents fuming about a three-hour ride to the location to learn that most of the elephants could not be seen as they were in town for the carnival at Krakatau festival! A Lithuanian travel agent even told that she was shocked to be asked twice the price – previously announced by the official guide in the bus – for an elephant ride as “she was a foreigner.” No pre-tour of the city was organized prior to TIME take-off. It means that tour operators who selected another tour than the city visit on the last day, never had the opportunity to look at Bandar Lampung.
It is true that officials apologized a few times about the shortcomings of this TIME edition due to their inexperience. This is comprehensible up to a certain point. Other cities in Indonesia regularly host travel shows, and the provincial government benefited from the knowledge of the TIME team – PACTO – as Convex/Titan has been organizing the show for 17 years all across the archipelago, and TIME Chairwoman Meity Robot has been there since its early beginning. It was then easy to acquire the necessary skills to play host to the travel show. But the local government wanted to go its own way. Most surprising was also the absence of the Provincial Governor and the Head of Tourism during the show. “That was a first at TIME,” a veteran to the show confidentially stated. Another perceived faux pas as it only exposed local politicians’ lack of interest.
All together, Lampung missed a unique opportunity to present itself. The consequences could already be heard among buyers. “I will not program such a destination in Malaysia, as Lampung is frankly unprepared to welcome international travelers, according to the experience I had here,” confessed a Malaysian tour operator. Lampung representatives stated at the end of the closing press conference their willingness to host next year’s TIME, as they signed a convention for two consecutive shows. They promised to improve. For many buyers, it already sounds like a too late wake-up.