Mimi Hudoyo, Jakarta, July 15, 2015
THE Indonesian government’s intention to open up the destination by giving 30 additional countries visa-free access have received international applause, but the trade finds grey areas in the implementation that may cause a backlash to its tourism sector.
Although the presidential regulation stated the facilities were eligible for government services, educational activities, social cultural affairs, tourism, business, family visits, journalistic duties or participate in a transit stay en route to a third country, the implementation guideline issued by the Directorate General of Immigration to its offices and checkpoints is not quite the same.
The guideline states that visa-free facilities were eligible for “tourism purpose only”, which was interpreted as “leisure travel only” by frontline officials.
Alan Chong, sales & marketing manager at Orex Travel & Tours in Kuala Lumpur, pointed out that his Japanese business clients in Malaysia still needed to apply for visas on arrival when travelling for business to Indonesia.
“An officer at the airport will ask tourists their reasons for entering the country and then guide them to the right queue,” said Chong.
“Business travellers are told to get a visa-on-arrival first before they go through immigration. If they were travelling for leisure, they can go straight to the Immigration counter and get their passports stamped.”
However, TTG Asia e-Daily have been told that a Caucasian business traveller was able to sail through immigration without a visa.
The guideline also stipulated that travellers were “allowed in and out” from five international airports and four seaports, namely the airports of Jakarta, Bali, Medan, Surabaya, Batam, and seaports of Sekupang and Batam Centre, Batam, Sri Bintan and Tanjung Uban Riau.
I Ketut Ardana, chairman of the Association of the Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (ASITA) Bali Chapter, said: “The problem our inbound tour operator members face is that travellers, especially those longhaul ones, have held their tickets long before the new regulation implemented.”
“It is common for travellers to arrive in Bali and leave from Yogyakarta or Lombok, which are not visa-free entry and exit points. In such cases, travellers still need to pay for visa on arrival, although they are here for leisure,” he adds.
Ricky Setiawanto, director of business development, Panorama Destination, said: “We have travellers who were stopped from leaving Indonesia from Lombok airport because it was not a visa-free gateway.”
“Some immigration officers do not check tickets and they let travellers in without a visa. If they had checked, they would have noticed planned departures from non-visa-free exit points and would be able to advise travellers to apply for a visa-on-arrival, which is cheaper (US$35) and less (troublesome) than having to reroute their tickets back to Bali.”
Ardana said ASITA Bali had sent a letter to the Immigration office and the tourism minister, requesting for the guidelines to be simplified.
Arief Yahya, Indonesia’s minister of tourism, acknowledged that tourism “includes MICE, business travellers who are here for meetings, visiting projects etc; they are different from expatriates who live here to work”.
He agrees that the visa-free facility should be made available to “these people” and shared that his office is now in talks with the immigration office for solutions. (Additional reporting by S.Puvaneswary and Greg Lowe)