King Salman's Visit to Boost Middle Eastern Tourists to Indonesia?
Earlier this week it was announced by the Saudi Embassy that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia decided to extend his holiday on Indonesia's island of Bali by three days. After signing 11 agreements on partnerships between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia with regard to various sectors, ranging from security to oil and gas, King Salman - who brought an entourage of 1,500 people to Indonesia - can now enjoy the beauty of Bali, the most popular holiday destination of foreign tourists in Indonesia.
The extended holiday of King Salman on Bali may in fact be great promotion. Lack of promotion is reason why relatively few Middle Eastern tourists visit Bali. Usually, Middle Eastern tourists learn about Indonesia through word-of-mouth (through a friend or family member who has been in Southeast Asia's largest economy). It is interesting to note that Middle Eastern tourists have more spending power compared to other foreign tourists, and therefore they are a valuable asset in terms of foreign exchange earnings. On average the spending power of a Middle Eastern tourist is twice as much compared to other foreign tourists' spending power.
Read more: King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Visit Indonesia in Early March
Indonesian news portal Tempo reports relatively few Middle Eastern tourists visit Bali as they usually prefer the Puncak area in West Java, a mountain pass that is famous for its beautiful tea plantations and forests. Due to the big amount of tourists from the Middle East who visit this Puncak area each year, you will see many signs (of restaurants, hotels and shops) in the Arabic language rather than in Indonesian or English. This area is in fact nicknamed "Arab Village" due to the quantity of Middle Eastern tourists.
Read more: Overview of the Tourism Sector in Indonesia
Although the number of Middle Eastern tourists in Indonesia is rising it only forms a "small piece of the cake". In 2016 a total of 186,654 Middle Eastern tourists visited Indonesia, up from 160,696 in the preceding year. This figure is, however, small compared to the total of 12.2 million foreign tourists who visited the world's largest archipelago in 2016. By far, most foreign tourists who visit Indonesia come from Singapore, China and Malaysia.
Many Middle Eastern tourists visit Puncak as this area is now known among Middle East communities as the tourist attraction in Indonesia. However, local sources say it is a public secret that Middle Eastern tourists are attracted by the Puncak because of the "short marriage facility". Tourists can marry Indonesian women unofficially (these women usually originate from Cianjur or Sukabumi) for a short period of time (several weeks or months) and then depart back to the Middle East leaving their unofficial Indonesian "spouse" behind in Puncak (who sometimes become pregnant). For the women this is a good deal as they are paid at least IDR 15 million (approx. USD $1,100) per month, far above the regional minimum wage.
Local sources further inform that many of the Indonesian women who become the temporary wife of a foreign tourist actually already have an Indonesian husband. However, not unoften, the Indonesian husband supports this facility as it will lead to significant income for the household. In fact, for some women it is a career as they serve one or two "clients" every year.
Usually in the month of May, there occurs a significant rise in arrival of Middle Eastern tourists in the Puncak area, locally known as the start of the "Arab season" (May-August). For the local economy this period is lucrative: most of the villas are occupied, while local restaurants, shops, and car rentals generate more income.