Sumatra wants its Pan-island office of tourism


BANGKOK (eTN) – The Thailand Travel Mart expanded this year to include countries located within the IMT-GT (Indonesia Malaysia Thailand Growth Triangle). This entity includes, since 1993, in a very loose relation, Southern Thailand (from Phuket to Narathiwat and Yala), Half of Peninsular Malaysia and the entire island of Sumatra.

By proclaiming 2008 “IMT-GT Visit Year,” the three countries expect to strengthen the image of the region to consumers. According to internal information from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, some 10 million Baht were attributed by the kingdom for the promotion of IMT-GT, including the presence of some 40 sellers from Malaysia and Indonesia at TTM.

If the political world seems suddenly to take into account the existence of the Growth Triangle, many hurdles still remain to make IMT-GT a model of tourism integration. First, flights are still in their infancies. “ We only get connections from Sumatra to Kuala Lumpur or Penang but there are no flights at all between Thailand and Medan,” complained Artur Batubara from North Sumatra Tourism Board (NTSB).

NTSB has been negotiating with airlines to see the opening of an air link before year-end between Medan and most probably Phuket. The NTSB already conducted talks with some Indonesian airlines such as regional carrier Riau Airlines and with the AirAsia group. “Once we have an air connection, we can target 10,000 to 15,000 travellers from Thailand, instead of 2,000 currently,” added Batubara.

In total, North Sumatra welcomed in 2007 some 160,000 foreign visitors, with 100,000 coming just from Malaysia.

Among other initiatives is the creation of packages for short-haul markets (3 days-2 nights) with fixed prices as well as packages for long-haul markets. “For long-haul markets, packages will include two or three countries together,” Batubara said.

A last difficulty to be solved would be the promotion of Sumatra. The island still remains relatively unknown among most Asian travelers in Asia, besides Malaysia and Singapore. According to Batubara, the NTSB is currently talking with tourism offices from all the other provinces in Sumatra to create the first Pan-Sumatra Tourism Board.

“We expect it to come into life by year-end. Even if we would have for the first year a very limited budget – probably less than a million US dollars – we could give more exposure to our island. Our priority would then be a comprehensive website, as well as a general brochure about Sumatra,” Batubara closed.