Folklore, legend alternative bait to lure travelers to Indonesia

People visit Prambanan temple complex in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta.
People visit Prambanan temple complex in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta. Viriya Singgih.

Jakarta-based private employee Gizela Cindy has lost count of how many times she has visited Yogyakarta over the past several years with friends or family.

One thing that attracts the 23-year-old woman in particular is the folklore that comes as inseparable part of each cultural heritage site in the province. Prambanan temple complex in Sleman regency, for instance, comes as the background of the legend of the unrequited love of prince Bandung Bondowoso to princess Roro Jonggrang.

The legend says that as a condition to marrying him, Roro Jonggrang asked Bandung Bondowoso to build some temples with 1,000 statues in one night.

When it looked like the request would be fulfilled, Roro Jonggrang ordered villagers to pound rice and light a big fire to make it look like dawn. The heartbroken Bandung Bondowoso, who could only finish 999 statues, ended up cursing Roro Jonggrang for deceiving him.

“Such a story can be found in many other places in [and around] Yogyakarta, including at Borobudur temple or Ullen Sentalu museum. That’s why I’ve always been glad to revisit the sites from time to time,” said Cindy, who works for a creative agency.

Indeed, Yogyakarta has its own charm that can lure domestic and foreign tourists into visiting the province. Therefore, the government has included Yogyakarta in its current top 10 priority destinations, along with Lake Toba, Labuan Bajo, Mandalika, Mount Bromo, Morotai, Tanjung Lesung, Thousand Islands, Wakatobi and Belitung.

Indonesia, the world’s biggest archipelago with more than 17,000 islands, is currently seeking to spur significant growth in the tourism sector in a bid to lure 20 million tourists a year by 2019, nearly double last year’s figure of around 12 million per year.

Speaking in a recent discussion, Prasetiya Mulya University rector Djisman Simandjuntak, said the country actually had abundant of “raw material”, such as folklore, legend or myth surrounding each major tourist destination, to attract travelers from around the world. However, not all of them are known widely like the Roro Jonggrang legend.

“Indonesia has a very unique culture, which unfortunately has yet to be properly written,” said Djisman.

“If a folktale in one destination can be rewritten or repackaged to bring a deeper message, people will be more interested in visiting that place.”

Taking the resort island of Bali as example, Djisman said only few visitors know about the legend surrounding many places in the region, including the legend regarding the creation of Mount Agung and Mount Batur. Legend has it that both mounts were made of fragments of Mount Meru, believed to be the central axis of the universe, brought to Bali by the first Hindus.

Former tourism minister Mari Elka Pangestu, who serves as member of Prasetiya Mulya’s advisory board, shared a similar view, as she said that folklores were part of Indonesia’s unique local wisdom.

“Tourism is about experience, about story, and this is why environmental sustainability is so important,” she said.

“Millennials nowadays tend to seek for such an environmentally sustained destination. So, it’s important for us to do a proper nation branding and promotion, particularly through social media, to attract them.”

Hence, Mari said the government should start thinking about optimizing digital channel in its marketing campaign, including by involving social media influencers to make one destination viral.

Media buying agency Zenith, a unit of French ad agency Publicis Groupe SA, has previously forecasted that 75 percent of internet use will be mobile in 2017, up slightly from 71 percent in 2016, as reported by Reuters.

Moreover, mobile advertising expenditure in 2018 will amount to US$134 billion, which “is more than will be spent on newspaper, magazine, cinema and outdoor advertising put together,” it said.

Nonetheless, Mari also warned the government to immediately prepare all the infrastructures and human resources needed to welcome the tourists once they were attracted to make a visit.

“Promotion is one thing, but the product itself needs to be well prepared,” she said. “After that, it’s going to be easier for the government to boost the economy from tourism sector.”

The government expects the contribution from tourism sector will account for 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2019, up from last year’s 11 percent. By the time, the sector is also projected to bring Rp 275 trillion ($20.7 billion) in foreign exchange, up from Rp 172.8 trillion booked in 2016.

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Note
1. This story was first published in The Jakarta Post newspaper.

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