Saturday, April 9, 2011

Indonesia: A World Class Golf Destination In Waiting

The Jakarta Post, 9 April 2011 - Indonesia truly is a world class golf destination in waiting. In the past 20 years, I have seen golf in Indonesia grown from a mere 60 courses to more than 130 today.

In the early 1990s, a wide variety of courses were planned and built and it seemed that, as far as building golf courses was concerned, in Indonesia the sky was the limit.

Today, in and around Jakarta alone some 38 golf courses can be played and the majority of those courses are of absolute world class quality. Further to that, Surabaya and Bali are legitimate golf destinations and there too we can find courses of world class quality.

Memberships in those early days were pretty expensive, ranging from US$50,000 to over $100,000 for the more prestigious and exclusive golf and country clubs. Here too, the sky seemed to be the limit and many golfers often bought and/or owned more than one membership.

Due to a lack of sustainable growth in membership takers, over the years most golf courses rapidly had to surrender their “strictly membership” policy and gradually non-members were allowed to buy so called weekday “green fees” enabling golf course owners to cash in on their initial investment.

Today, memberships are “out of fashion”. “Member’s Guests” are now even allowed to play the strictly membership courses during weekends hence golfers, today, clearly are opting for paying of a “walk-in” green fee rather than buying a membership.

This change of heart surely played in the hands of the domestic (golf) travel industry. One after the other, travel business owners that were golfers themselves saw a hole in the market and branched out and added “golf travel” to their range of services. They started to cater to a clientele that predominantly came from Indonesia’s neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. The majority of these golfers were business men who frequently came over to Indonesia for business reasons.

Soon, it appeared that the Malaysians and Singaporeans in particular, found their own way to the courses as they often were assisted in booking of tee-off times by their local business contacts and/or “golf buddies”. Moreover, their local contacts and buddies were also able to get them cheap deals at local hotels while transportation was provided by their Indonesian golf kakis causing inbound golf travel business from the immediate region to grow.

Early on, in 1998, I saw a market for “inbound” golf travel. But, to convince foreign golfers to come and play golf in Indonesia, obviously I first needed to promote Indonesia as a valid golf destination. In 1999 I got a team together and we started, a website that aims at giving foreign golfers comprehensive information on Indonesia golf.

Indonesia is home to a wide variety of fabulous courses and facilities that are run by very capable and professional people. Over the past decade they have created a golf product of which we can be truly proud. The majority of our golf facilities are equally good, if not better than in some of our neighboring countries, including Thailand and China. Our caddies are in a class of their own. They’re pretty, friendly, but most of all very knowledgeable and fun to be with. They are proficient in English.

The Jagorawi Toll road gives easy access to 17 fabulous courses. In actual fact, it is our own “Mission Hills” (China) that holds the world record with 12 courses in one and the same area.

Weekday golf in Indonesia is rather inexpensive while golf in this country perfectly can be combined with Indonesia’s incredible world of art and culture. The perfect blend, I would say and truly unbeatable.

Promoting Indonesia golf, therefore, is a no-brainer. However, when we compare Indonesia Golf Tourism promotion with golf tourism promotion in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, then we have to come to a sad conclusion; Indonesia is lagging way behind.

Thailand, annually, attracts more than 200,000 foreign golfers, raking in a staggering $500 million in the process. If you know that the global golf travel business is worth an estimated $15 billion, then you realize the significance of Thailand’s inbound golf travel business as a true money spinner for the country.

In golf, China is a relative newcomer. Yet, annually it already attracts close to 100,000 foreign golfers who spend an average of 7 days in the country and about $200 to $250 a day. To put things in perspective; Indonesia, attracts not even 10,000 golfers annually and the sole reason for this is simply poor promotion and more than often, the total lack of it.

In the field of promotion, in the past decade Thailand and China have done extremely well.

Lately, even emerging golf destinations such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are coming up strong with professional and sustainable global promotion campaigns.

They all have employed professional marketing companies to promote their golf product to the world, unlike in Indonesia.

Again, promoting Indonesia Golf is a no-brainer and now is the time that Indonesia’s golf industry comes together with the Ministry of Tourism and the local tourism boards of Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali to create a sustainable golf tourism strategy that will secure Indonesia’s position as one of Asia’s most attractive golf destinations.

Inbound golf tourism could act as a spring board in the revival of our ailing (general) tourism industry, something that is direly needed. If we fail to that, then Indonesia simply will forever remain “a world class golf destination in waiting.”

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