Lake Toba - as well as the hills around the lake and Samosir island - is one of the most beautiful destinations in Indonesia. However, infrastructure bottlenecks make it difficult to tap the potential of this area. Previously, tourists (those living outside Sumatra or abroad) had to fly to Medan, located approximately 170 kilometers to the north of Lake Toba, and then take a bus or car to travel over land for about five hours before reaching Lake Toba. These tough circumstances made many people opt for an easier choice in, for example, Malaysia or Thailand.

However, with the presence of Silangit International Airport, tourists can now reach Lake Toba in about 45 minutes from the airport. Hence, it has become much more attractive for domestic and foreign tourists to travel to Indonesia's largest lake (and the world's largest volcanic lake).

One of the reasons why Indonesia attracts few foreign tourists compared to Malaysia, Singapore or Malaysia is because traveling across Indonesia is complicated due to infrastructure hurdles. While between 20 and 30 million foreigners visit these three countries each year, Indonesia only managed to welcome 11.5 million foreign tourists in 2016.

On the positive side, it means there is plenty of room for growth for Indonesia's tourism industry, provided infrastructure development continues to progress and local human resources learn the skills (including the English language) so that they can offer good services to the tourist.

Although coming from a low base, foreign tourist arrivals in Indonesia are already one of the country's key foreign exchange earners. It is estimated that Indonesia can collect up to USD $16 billion in foreign exchange from foreign tourists this year as each tourist spends about USD $1,000 - $1,200 per visit. In the January-September 2017 period, tourist arrivals in Indonesia grew by 17.48 percent year-on-year (y/y) to 8.82 million tourists.

Although Silangit International Airport has received the status of international airport and was officially opened by Widodo on Friday, work on the airport has not been completed yet. The length of the runway will be extended from 2,650 meters, currently, to 3,000 meters, while the size of the terminal will be expanded from 3,054 m2 to 10,000 m2. This will make it possible to welcome large-sized airplanes and handle plenty of traffic and air passengers. These targets should be completed by 2020.

The Indonesian government hopes to see a 30 percent increase in visitors to Lake Toba in the next 12 months. In 2016 a total of 230,000 tourists visited the lake. Starting from 2019 there should be at least one million visitors per year. Visitor growth should also trigger various new economic activities in the area, particularly in the hospitality industry and transportation, hence the welfare of the local communities should rise.

Airlines Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya Air, Batik Air and Citilink have all confirmed their Jakarta-Silangit route. Garuda Indonesia also offers a route between Singapore and Silangit.