ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Indonesia proposes visa-free pact for OIC members
Publication Date : 03-06-2014
Indonesia's Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu proposed that members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should initiate visa-free agreements to boost tourism.
“I have proposed that the OIC initiate a visa facilitation between member countries. The aim is to ease movement, which would boost the number of tourists,” Mari told reporters during the opening of the OIC Inaugural International Forum on Islamic Tourism in Jakarta on Monday.
She said that the facilitation could be modeled after the Asean visa-free program.
“[In] 2012, the Muslim world spent around US$137 billion on traveling or about 12.5 per cent of global spending. This figure does not include spending on haj and umrah [minor pilgrimage],” she continued.
According to Mari, Malaysia remains the favored destination of Middle Eastern travelers for sharia tourism. “Around 30 per cent of tourists to Malaysia are from Middle Eastern countries, while they only account for between 10 and 15 per cent of our foreign tourists,” she continued.
Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that four OIC member countries top the list of the fastest growing number of tourists arriving in the archipelago in the first four months of this year.
Bahrain topped the list with 73.56 per cent growth, followed by Saudi Arabia (54.42 per cent), United Arab Emirates (49.58 per cent) and Egypt (38.07 per cent), the data shows.
Vice President Boediono during his opening speech said that the two-day inaugural OIC forum should be aimed at addressing the challenges to developing sharia tourism among the 57 member countries.
“One of the main challenges is the promotion and education of the public about the principle of sharia tourism. This event is an opportunity to initiate cooperation and be more active,” he said.
Last year, the ministry launched an initiative to develop sharia tourism and promote Indonesia as a Muslim-friendly tourist destination, teaming up with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to create guidelines for developing the concept in four areas — hotels, restaurants, travel agents and spas.
The government chose 13 provinces to serve as major sharia destinations: Aceh, West Sumatra, Riau, Lampung, Banten, Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi.
Separately, chairman of Financial Services Authority (OJK) Muliaman Hadad said that the country’s Islamic financial industry should support the development of sharia tourism by providing banking and insurance products to develop the sector.
“I think there should be innovative sharia-based products to help finance the infrastructure, hotels and provide insurance for Muslim travelers,” he said.
“I hope the sharia finance industry sees this as a big opportunity. We are planning on a meeting to discuss this with the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry,” he continued.