Development also brings change

Sustainable tourism
Interview with Ruedi Nuetzi, Project Manager, WISATA, Swisscontact Indonesia

Swisscontact implemented the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs’ WISATA project in Indonesia since 2010. The objective was to develop first one, then four tourism destinations, thereby creating the conditions for more jobs and better income opportunities. Ruedi Nuetzi directed the project since the very beginning, before closing it down in summer 2018.

Ruedi Nuetzi, you developed a branding strategy for the island of Flores right from the start of the WISATA project. Can this be called development cooperation as well?

In the case of Flores, branding was quite important, especially internally. The island is inhabited by various ethnic groups and the Florinese did not see themselves as one. The branding process provided a vehicle for them to see the island as a common destination, at least as far as tourism is concerned. This served as the basis for developing a Destination Management Organisation (DMO), which is very active today.

In which areas did WISATA make the biggest difference?

We developed toolkits for SMEs and their employees along with brief courses that helped them test and improve the quality of their services. Later we noticed that certain experts from the hotel industry, vocational schools, and the local government were very interested in sharing their skills, so we helped them connect to local resource networks. Now they are available to help tourism businesses in trainings for professions such as receptionists, waiters, cooks, and tour guides. They teach these brief courses on the side, in addition to exercising their actual professions, so there are no fixed costs.

How were the local population and government able to profit from WISATA’s activities?

We worked closely with various communities, helped them organise and establish rules on which tourism services to offer, as well as how to distribute revenues, in particular. This “community coaching” approach was unique to Indonesia for a long period. We supported the local government in their tourism development planning. Our perspective was particularly valuable in terms of the environmental aspects and sustainability. We developed a roadmap with the local government for the improvement of waste management. In addition, various private initiatives came about, for example a women’s group that makes amazing products from waste.

In 2014 the project entered its second phase and three more destinations were added, on top of Flores: Toraja, Wakatobi, and Tanjung Puting. Has it been possible to apply the experience gained on Flores to the other destinations?

The project focus was adapted to the local conditions in each case. Three of the four destinations now feature an organisation that approximates the idea of a DMO, even if they are each organised differently. We were able to build up local resource networks at all four destinations. 

In its second phase, a skills development component was added to the WISATA Project. What did it include?

The vocational schools at the destinations had next to no connections with the hotel and restaurant industry. Trainers often lacked a connection to the actual field of practice. This provided an opportunity for us to start a programme, which to this day remains one of the highlights of the project: the “Teacher Internship Programme”. Trainers completed a one-month internship in a Balinese business during their summer holiday. For some this was the very first time they had seen a business from the inside. Feedback from trainers, schools, and the industry was quite positive. Now the idea is being adopted at the national level.

The central government is implementing a programme known as the “10 New Balis” strategy. What is this exactly?

The government’s official plan is to increase international visitors from 9 million to 20 million between 2015 and 2019. That’s more than double, but compared to neighbouring countries Malaysia and Thailand it is still rather little. Since the time frame is quite short, they are focusing on ten destinations and will promote these extensively. However, this also means that pressure on these individual destinations is high, and in the case of Wakatobi particularly so: in 2015, it received 16,000 visitors while the objective for 2019 is 500,000. Of course, this is completely unrealistic. The crux of big programmes like this is that they will need more time than what they actually have available.

What are the challenges this “10 New Balis” strategy faces, and what are the opportunities?

There are numerous projects in the ten destinations, starting with the expansion of airports to improve flight connections. This is a very good thing. In Labuan Bajo, for example, an entire area of the seafront will be turned into a modern marina. Such investments of course change the character of the destinations radically, and they do nothing to solve environmental problems. However, investments could also benefit the destinations, especially in basic infrastructure such as water and power. On some islands in Wakatobi, for example, there is still no reliable and continuous power supply. For this reason, schools cannot install things like computers. This will change thanks to the national programme. However, the speed of implementation of these programmes represents a danger. The population will need time to absorb these changes. At the same time, along with their ambitious goals the government has also defined criteria for sustainable tourism. This gives us hope that it won’t overheat.

Swisscontact is now implementing another tourism development project in Indonesia for SECO. To what extent is it related to WISATA?

The new programme is smaller and focuses on the destinations overlapping in the “10 New Balis” strategy and the WISATA project: Flores and Wakatobi. One component will be implemented by the World Bank and another by Swisscontact. Most importantly we will again be working with the local communities and can expand our existing network.

What is your personal prediction for the tourism sector in Indonesia?

We are going to witness exciting times. Development also brings change. If the central government’s “10 New Balis” strategy is implemented with relative moderation, then I hope the population will benefit from it. I’m somewhat concerned for Labuan Bajo on Flores. The place is growing very quickly. We must not forget that destination development must be implemented locally. In the end, the destination belongs to the local people.