Indonesia looks to industrial past to expand tourism market

JAKARTA – Away from the tried and tested itineraries, tours of closed coal mines and other industrial heritage sites from Indonesia’s colonial past are increasingly attracting visitors, helping President Joko Widodo toward his goal of significantly growing the country’s tourism industry.

The country’s tourism sector received a major boost in July when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee registered the Ombilin Coal Mine, in the small mountain town of Sawahlunto, as a World Heritage Site.

The Ombilin mine, opened by the Dutch in 1892, is Indonesia’s fifth World Heritage Site. Its four predecessors include world-famous places such as Buddhist temple Borobudur and the Sangiran Early Man Site.

At its height, the mine was one of the world’s leading coal mines, and produced coal equivalent to 90% of the total annual energy consumption of Indonesia, reported the Nikkei Asia Review.

With the prestigious accolade secured, and an associated uptick in visitors going to view the mine’s shiny black bed of coal, a plan is underway to convert an old colonial building nearby into a hotel.

“We hope that tourists will visit here from all over the world,” said Rahmat Gino, head of the Sawahlunto Culture and Historical Preservation Agency, was quoted as saying.

Tourists visiting the city from abroad have been increasing since the old mine was inscribed as a UNESCO heritage site.

Although there remain many industrial heritage sites which have yet to become widely known, some are already being utilised in the promotion of local tourism. For example, Belitung, an island in the province of Bangka Belitung off the east cost of Sumatra, has become a popular destination for tourists.

The island has been attracting much attention since the huge success of “Laskar Pelangi” (The Rainbow Troops), a novel by Andrea Hirata about children of local mine workers. The book was also adapted in a hit movie and its old tin mines have become popular as sightseeing spots.

The Widodo administration is promoting the development of tourism resources across the country to increase the number of inbound tourists to 20 million while also promoting domestic tourism.

Tourism now accounts for a little over 6% of Indonesia’s GDP, but the government hopes to quickly raise the ratio to the global average of around 10%.

Indonesian tourism is already well-known for Bali, the world-leading resort island. But the Widodo administration is developing other tourist draws such as eco-tourism and religion-themed tours.