Aceh has its work cut out


ACEH has the potential to become a bigger tourism destination but must first improve service levels and accessibility, said tourism stakeholders attending Indonesia Tourism Mart and Expo (TIME) 2014 in Banda Aceh over the weekend.

Ben Gosman, managing director of Free Incentives, the Netherlands, said: "The people have been helpful, friendly and they accept differences, which is different from the perception of Aceh being a (strict) Muslim area."

He said that Aceh could appeal to the Dutch market with its cultural and nature attractions. "We cater to travellers who want an off-the-beaten-track market, and Aceh is exactly that." Gosman also noted that Aceh has better land infrastructure than some destinations in the country.

Sellers at TIME 2014 noted that the special interest travellers have been making their way to Aceh. Pulau Weh Dive Resort owner and director, Vincent Chong, said: "We received divers from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China. It took a lot of effort to get them to come to Aceh, but once they do, they come back."

Anas Zulham Almansur, owner of Balrose Holiday, said: "We recently hosted a group of 12 golfers from Taiwan (to Aceh)."

The Indonesian province has been the subject of negative press over the decades - from the Free Aceh Movement between 1976 and 2005, to the Boxing Day tsunami and earthquake in 2004, and most recently, sharia law.

Rahmadhani, director of programming and planning, Aceh Culture and Tourism Office, said Aceh welcomes guests "regardless of their religious practices". "If female travellers want to wear a scarf over their head while they are here, they are welcome to, but if not, that is okay too as long as they are dressed properly."

Aceh is creating more events to attract visitors to come and experience the destination for themselves, said Rahmadhani. But restrictions still exist, such as the prohibition of alcohol consumption.

Buyers, however, pointed out there was still work to be done. "What Aceh and the Indonesian government need to do is promote Aceh internationally," Gosman said, adding that improving air accessibility is also necessary.

Riek Vogler, director of Asia Way Amsterdam, said: "Hospitality is new to the destination, so locals still need to learn how to serve international travellers," she said. 


Mimi Hudoyo, Banda Aceh, October 27, 2014



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